Biden to Vatican for installation of new pope

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Updated 5:56 p.m. ET

According to a senior U.S. government official, Vice President Joe Biden – America’s first Catholic vice president and the highest ranking Catholic official in the country – will lead the U.S. delegation to witness the installation of Pope Francis in Rome, CBS News Chief White House correspondent Major Garrett reports. The White House has yet to announce the full delegation for the inauguration Mass, which will be held next Tuesday.

“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,” Biden said in a statement today.

“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. I look forward to our work together in the coming years on many important issues.”

The selection of Biden to head the delegation should allay concerns that the new pope’s installation next week would coincide with the president’s trip to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan, potentially forcing an adjustment of Mr. Obama’s travel schedule.

Meanwhile, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who are not Catholic, nonetheless joined in the congratulation, extending their “warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy.”

“As the first pope from the Americas,” the president added, “his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world.”

The president was meeting with House Republicans when news broke that a pope had been selected; Mr. Obama informed the lawmakers of the development.

After his meeting with the president, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, the highest-ranking Catholic in the U.S. Congress, said “Congratulations” to the new pope when asked about the selection today. “I am glad that they were able to come to a choice as quickly as they did,” he said. “Reaching out beyond the traditional continent of our Church is another big step in the right direction for the Church.”

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