“There’s a lot of people who would love to see the pope. It's a really hard decision to make,” Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said in an interview. (Daines ultimately settled on “a very dear friend who is a very devout Catholic,” someone who he thought “would probably enjoy and appreciate it the most.”)
Thom Tillis, a Republican senator from North Carolina, hasn’t made a decision yet, but he has had plenty of people asking about the ticket. “A lot of people know I’m Catholic and I’ve got a lot of Catholic friends,” Tillis said, adding: “I wish I had more [tickets]!”
Apart from the VIP guests who get to watch Pope Francis speak in-person, each office has a slate of tickets to give away for a standing-room-only spot on the West Lawn of the Capitol, where guests can watch a live broadcast of the event. (To sweeten the deal, Francis is also expected to stroll onto the Speaker’s balcony to make a brief appearance in front of the crowd gathered outside.)
As a result, Capitol offices are flooded with requests for tickets.
“A lot of people are asking about it,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said. Capito called up her guest personally to extend the invitation, after deciding to ask Bill McCoy, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in the senator’s hometown of Charleston, West Virginia. “I called him today, and he was very excited about it,” she said. "The pope is the spiritual leader of the world and Bill has been a big spiritual force in my life so I thought it would be a wonderful thing to share with him."
To deal with demand, lawmakers are getting creative. Senator Chuck Schumer set up a lottery, letting New York state constituents try their luck for a winning ticket. His office was quickly inundated with thousands of requests, according to Matt House, a spokesman for the senator.
Over on the other side of the Capitol, Representative Rod Blum of Iowa has asked parishes in his district to nominate individuals worthy of seeing the pope speak. The names of those nominated will be entered into a drawing for the ticket and Blum has promised to pay for the cost of the trip out of his own pocket.
Many lawmakers have decided to give the ticket to a family member, and for at least some, that choice was an easy one to make.
“It was not a hard decision. It would have cost me a marriage if I would not have given it to her,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said of giving a ticket to his wife, Sharla, adding: “She absolutely said, ‘I want to go.’”
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota also left the final decision to their respective wives.
Barrasso’s guest ticket is going to his 92-year-old mother, herself a practicing Catholic. “It was my wife’s decision," Barrasso said in an interview, "Because of course my wife would have had the ticket. My wife was the first choice, but she said, 'You should take your mother.'”