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An Excused Absence (Note From Holy Father Not Required)

Crowds gathered outside the White House yesterday to welcome Pope Benedict XVI. Today, more than 100 members of Congress plan to attend a papal Mass at Nationals Park.
Crowds gathered outside the White House yesterday to welcome Pope Benedict XVI. Today, more than 100 members of Congress plan to attend a papal Mass at Nationals Park. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo

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By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, April 17, 2008

P ope Benedict XVI will achieve a rare double filibuster today, closing down both the Senate and the House as more than 100 members of Congress flock to the papal Mass scheduled for this morning at Nationals Park.

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Neither chamber will come into session until after lunch, according to aides.

Lawmakers are heading by bus from the Capitol down South Capitol Street to the stadium, although we're guessing they won't have to start queuing up in the wee hours of the morning like the others hoping for the best view of Benedict's first service in the States.

Leading the delegation are some of Congress's most prominent Catholics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) grew up attending the Church of St. Leo the Great in Baltimore, and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) co-chairs an annual fundraising dinner with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to benefit the District of Columbia's Catholic schools.

The Archdiocese of Washington handled ticketing for the event, inviting congressional leaders and members from the area, as well as all Catholic lawmakers. "We invited Catholic members since this is a religious service," explained archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.

How did the archdiocese figure out which members are Catholic? "Religious affiliation is widely known," Gibbs said, adding that "the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also has staff that work with Congress."

Before anyone complains about Congress not doing its job, consider this: Taking half a day off to see "Il Papa" just delays the House from getting to its agenda for the week -- some post office namings and a few bills dealing with student loans and beach pollution -- and the Senate has had trouble moving forward with a bill designed to correct errors in highway funding legislation approved three years ago.

Maybe a little prayer this morning will help both chambers get ready to tackle more heady issues related to war and peace.

The Sacred and the Profane

Seeing the pope in person at the White House was the height of a truly blessed week for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who dodged the ultimate bullet by not having to testify in the trial of the D.C. Madam.

Vitter and his wife, Wendy, were spotted yesterday among the thousands of guests who gathered on the South Lawn of the White House to sing "Happy Birthday" to the pontiff on his 81st birthday, and receive his blessing.

On Tuesday, the senator was spared the embarrassment of having to explain why his phone number showed up six times in the phone records of D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey between 1999 and 2001, when Vitter was in the House. Palfrey's defense rested its case without calling any witnesses.

Palfrey's attorney had subpoenaed Vitter to testify in hopes of bolstering Palfrey's claim that her employees provided only sexual fantasy, not actual sex, for money.


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