WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The four leaders of the U.S. Congress asked members on Thursday to refrain from one of Washington's favorite rituals when Pope Francis visits the Capitol next week: no trying to grab a handshake as he makes his way in.
On Sept. 24, Pope Francis will become the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives, and lawmakers have been looking for guidance on how to behave during the visit.
In a letter, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked members to refrain from handshakes and conversations along the House chamber's center aisle as the pope, cabinet members and other dignitaries arrive.
"Out of respect for the Pope's schedule and the expectation of a timely address, we respectfully request that you assist us by refraining from handshakes and conversations along and down the center aisle," they wrote.
Pope Francis' eagerly anticipated visit is expected to draw huge crowds to Washington. Tight security measures and planned street closings have already prompted calls for those who work in the city to stay home.
Despite the flurry of attention to the upcoming visit, the guidance in Thursday's "courtesy notice" differs little from what was in a similar letter sent out in January for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.
Hugs, handshakes and chats with the president, captured by television cameras for a national audience, are a dominant feature of the president's annual speech.
However, the State of the Union letter asked members to refrain from "lengthy" handshakes and conversations, not to avoid them altogether.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler)