(CNN) - Vice President Joe Biden, the first Roman Catholic to serve as vice president, will lead the U.S. delegation to next week's formal installation of Pope Francis, he said in a statement Wednesday.
"I am happy to have the chance to personally relay my well wishes, and those of the American people, when I travel to Rome for his Inaugural Mass," he wrote. "The Catholic Church plays an essential role in my life and the lives of more than a billion people in America and around the world, not just in matters of our faith, but in pursuit of peace and human dignity for all faiths."
Speaking on CNN, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Tom Rosica called the news Biden would attend the installation mass "significant," explaining the Vatican doesn't formally extend invitations to other governments.
"Many heads of state have been letting us know their desire to come," Rosica said. "The Holy See never invites people to come to this, but they inform governments we have a new leader and I think many people will be coming and I'm sure many people from Latin America, South America will be coming as well."
The choice of Biden to attend next week's installation means President Barack Obama will not have to alter his planned trip to the Middle East. Asked if it would have been more appropriate for Obama himself to attend Pope Francis' installation, Rosica said "it is not up to me to comment on anything like that."
"We're just grateful people are coming, and those who are coming know who they are coming to see," he added.
Earlier in the day, Obama said in a statement the selection of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina to become the next pope spoke to the "strength and vitality of a region that in increasingly shaping our world."
He also pointed to the large number of Hispanic-Americans in the United States, who are overwhelmingly Catholic.
"Just as I appreciated our work with Pope Benedict XVI, I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security and dignity for our fellow human beings, regardless of their faith," Obama wrote. "We join with people around the world in offering our prayers for the Holy Father as he begins the sacred work of leading the Catholic Church in our modern world."
Obama learned a new pope had been selected during a meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill. An aide passed him a note with the news that white smoke was seen pouring out of the Sistine Chapel chimney, and he relayed the information to lawmakers present.
One Republican jokingly asked whether it meant tours at the White House, which have been suspended as a result of spending cuts, had resumed. He replied tours of the Vatican were back on.
After the meeting, House Speaker John Boehner, who is also Catholic, said he was pleased at how quickly the cardinals selected a new pope.
"I'm happy that they were able to come to a choice as quickly as they did," Boehner said. "I think that reaching out beyond the traditional continent of our church is another big step in the right direction for the church."
I am a staunch supporter of Obama; however, I have a question. Are my tax dollars being used to send someone to a religious ceremony?
For all the people who are complaining about the VP going to this event that is fine as long as you are being consistent. If you are against it on grounds that it is wasteful, not our businees, against supporting a religion etc. that is fine and you can have your own opinion. Just remember though that sitting President Bush went to the funeral of John Paull the II. So if you are against this for any of the above reasons just know that Presidents and VP have been doing this for a long time. If you are against it simply because you are against everything this administration does, you're a tool.
Hey Joe, why not share with the new Pope how, as a liberal politician, you support a woman's choice to have an abortion?? I'm sure the Pope would find the conversation quite stimulating, and could fit your excommunication into his busy schedule!
Oh, come on guys.....its not like its the coronation of Pat Robertson.
Watch your language Joe.
Great, send the guy who is most likely going to say something inappropriate.
Yeah, that's right Joe.. Go kiss the ring of the Capo De Capo....
Another million dollar junket - watch for all the fereel loading Dems jump on this vacation -at taxpayers' expense
What an unconscionable waste of taxpayer dollars–think about Joe and his jet-setting entourage vacationing in Rome as you give the government your hard-earned money.
The Vatican is actually a City State. The Pope is the head of government which is the reason we also have a US Ambassador to the Vatican.
Wonderful....a total embarrassment is representing the US.
I remember when George "W" Bush tried to give the German Chancellor Angela Merkel a neck massage while the world press filmed the meeting. She looked at him like he was a complete fool... Did you complain?
Joe Biden is a Catholic, very traditional and a perfect choice to lead the delegation.
In answer to why a representative from the U.S? Don in Albequerque is right! Know your history! The Pope is also a Statesman as well as a religious leader. If Romney were president, you can't tell me he wouldn't go to Rome or send someone. How about Catholic Paul Ryan in his place who wants to kill Medicaid for the poor and disabled (adults and children) . Where's his conscience? Even his state and town didn't want him!
Biden...Catholic? isn't he pro gay, pro abortion, pro choice pro everything against what Catholic Church preaches?
I think a phone call would suffice, given the Pope's political position as head of Vatican City...POTUS/VPOTUS generally don't attend the ceremonies for other political leaders. But flying out to Rome and kissing the ring of a religious leader is totally inappropriate for a US elected official.
Why send that goof ball? Well at least it'll keep him out of our country for awhile.
Oh, great, foot-in-mouth Joe. I hope he doesn't tell the Pope just to fire off two shotgun shells from that balcony
Biden what a hippocrite, I would love to see the pope excommunicate him. He does not abide by the churches teaching. He says he's Catholic, but anybody can say it. Its going by the churches law that counts. Biden loses out strongly.
Get to the back of the bus, Joe. Poor people sit up front today.
Why, why does our government need to go see a religious figure??? Stop the politics mixing it with government. If the Pope wants to stop by the White House sometime fine, but we don't need to spend money going to Rome to say hi.
Joe, just smile and keep your mouth shut.
This is going to be fun.
They should've sent a Catholic . . . uh . . .
Not on my Dime Mr. VP–
Just because he's our elected Vice President doesn't mean he doesn't continuously stick his foot in his mouth every time he opens it [see Dan Quayle]. Please, just don't let him speak.
Biden- the Catholic when he wants to be is leading it up. Great- maybe Pope Francis can pull him aside and remind him what the Church actually teaches on abortion and contraception.
And maybe he can teach the GOP about the honor of the poor, and taking care of those less fortunate.