(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."
First of all, we have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, just as we do with most other sovereign states. Second of all, the US has always sent a delegation to represent us at the installation of heads of state in countries we have relations with. This is not a junket. It is business as usual and there is nothing either religious or political about it. It was, after all, St. Ronald Reagan who initiated diplomatic relations with the Vatican, but we have been represented at papal installations for years. So get off it. If the current administration adopted every plank of the Republican platform, all of you would be screaming that it is yet another flip flop.And you would criticize that, just as you scream at everything they do that is business as usual now. Please stop wasting your spleen and our bandwidth.
I guess as a non-Christian, Barry wasn't invited.
Please do not be ignorant!! The Pope is the Chief of the Vatican State apart from being the head of the Catholic Church. JB somehow is paid to attend his appointing. Obama doesnt care to attend now simply due he was already voted by Hispanic. One year ago he would have been in Rome at first row!!
I can understand sending a representative of the United States, but I agree with all about not using tax payer's money. I'm having to cut back my spending because of being furloughed, our higher ups should do the same. We can't afford to send diplomats at this time.
Federal engineers from Nasa and DOD can't present their work at technical conferences or travel, 800000 civilians from Dod are about to be furloughed and lose 20% of pay for rest of FY 2013. DOD is reneging on paying uniformed and civilian tuition for coursework. Yet Congress and senior administration officials get no pay cut and VP will head a huge contingent of staffers to travel to Vatican to attend a ceremony with reps from almost every other country? I'm pretty sure we have State Dept staffers in Rome who can pay our respects. The Holy See will probably understand that times are tough. What happened to "share the sacrifice?" What a joke. Do what I say, not what I do.
Inject politics wherever possible. The Obama Administration creed.. What a joke!!
I sm not a Catholic. If the Pope can even suggest some sence of sanity to the political envirnmet of our country, how we rtreat the poor amounge us, and some RESPECT for our citizens it would be great.
Can he stay there?
Actually the Pope isn't just the leader of the Catholic Church , he is the Head of State of the City-State of Vatican City . So its is correct diplomacy to send representatives . The US also sent a delegation to represent the US at funeral of Hugo Chavez .
Will you criticise the US Govt for sending either the Pres or VP to attend Queen Elizabeth 2 of England when she dies or the coronation of its new monarch . After all the monarch of England is the Head of State of England , but also the leader and Defender of the Faith for the Church of England .
Excellent choice to send a Catholic to Vatican, while the boss goes to his Middle East roots (Mecca too?)
The pope should not even acknowledge this baby murdering liberal as well as any democrat. Being a true christian is not when you feel like it, according to the occassion. all democrats are going to hel........ anyway.
Biden doesn't need to go. If we had to, couldn't we have sent someone that actually supports what the Pope decrees?
That's good Joe Biden but only as long as you keep your wishes of man marrying men to yourself! I have message for you and the people of the same views. GOD DON'T recognize them they have no heart nor head. So please, Joe if that's the wish you want to go and communicate definitely that's a wish the body of Christ cannot entertain.
A national embarrassment is going....lovely. Should've sent Rodman.
I hope he doesn't say something stupid but I not holding my breath. Are the people in Deleware so dull from all the chemicals? How can normal thinking people keep electing this bafoon?
I wonder what profane statement he'll make to the new Pope? He's one of the best politicians at bungling a statement.
Great....Send the biggest doofus in our government there. Just goes to show how stupid the administration is. Heck, Rodman may possibly be a better choice than this fool!
Is the Tea Party sending it's own rebuttal delegation? Perhaps headed by Rubio, he was Catholic, then he was Mormon, now he's...what? A hydropathist?
I wonder how big this delegation will be.
The US has no business getting involved in religious affairs. Remember separation of church ans state?
If Obama can have a looney like Sandra Fluke speak at the Democratic Convention, then it's probably ok th pay respect to the leader of the Catholic Church and it's 1.2 billion people. Of course, liberals like to twist Separation of Church and State to fit their needs.
Glory be to God for new pope.
These comments from right wingers about Biden are too funny. Sure he says some silly things every now and then but at least he has not shot another man in the face or actively lied to the American people to get us into a war so his corporate buddies can profit off of it.
What has he done regarding stopping the Obama assault on Religious freedom?
Even Jesus sat with the sinners and so should the Pope. Why not Joe?? God knows Joe needs it.
Will republicans complain about how much this will cost taxpayers?