Biden to take central role during Pope Francis visit

Biden to take central role during Pope Francis visit
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Vice President Biden will take a high profile as he welcomes Pope Francis to the United States next week and accompanies him at several key stops on his historic trip.
 
Biden, a Roman Catholic, and his wife will join President Obama and the first lady to personally greet Francis when he lands Tuesday at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, according to the White House.
 
The vice president will be alongside Obama again on the South Lawn in welcoming Francis to the White House on Wednesday, where upwards of 15,000 people are expected.
 
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Biden will go to mass with the pope in Washington, before attending his address to a joint session of Congress the following the day, according to the White House.
 
The vice president will then join the pope after he leaves New York on the tail end of his U.S. visit, seeing him off by leading a farewell ceremony Sept. 27 in Philadelphia. 
 
The flurry of events will place Biden, who is considering a 2016 Democratic presidential bid, in the spotlight near the pope on the popular pontiff's first visit to the U.S.
 
"I admire Pope Francis deeply and I'm excited about his upcoming visit," Biden said in a statement Thursday afternoon, according to Reuters.
 
"Pope Francis has become a moral rudder for the world on some of the most important issues of our time, from inequality to climate change," he continued.
 
"I look forward to seeing him again soon," added Biden, who met the pope in March 2013.
 
The pope's visit to the United States more broadly represents an opportunity to discusses areas of mutual interest, White House aides said Thursday, but they acknowledge that he "operates at a different plane" and could make comments that don't necessarily line up with Obama administration policies.
 
"The president charged us from the very beginning to make sure that this visit has lasting value," Charlie Kupchan, who focuses on European relations on the White House's national security council, told reporters Thursday during a conference call previewing the pope's visit.
 
Obama and Francis will speak at Wednesday's welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn, followed by a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office, according to the White House. The pair last met for about an hour in March 2014 at the Vatican.
 
While White House officials say the pope decides what he wants to discuss, they acknowledge potential areas of agreement where he could lend support. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes described his visit as timely and important.
 
Francis has been supportive of U.S. moves to normalize relations with Cuba and will be visiting Washington after stops in that country. He also released his encyclical on climate change earlier this summer, White House officials noted, ahead of an international meeting in Paris later this year. 
 
The pope's visit presents an opportunity to "think about how we can take steps, including initiatives" to advance shared values, Kupchan said. 
 
White House officials trekked to the Vatican in June of this year to begin laying the groundwork for the pontiff's visit and potential items of conversation between he and the president. 
 
Melissa Rogers, who leads the White House's faith-based initiatives and traveled to the Vatican with Kupchan, on Thursday emphasized Francis' pastoral approach, saying "he has a unique kind of authority."
 
Meanwhile, Biden spoke of the pope's influence during a speech earlier this week, describing him as "the single most popular man in the world," not just among Catholics.