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It's pretty rare to get an invitation to go the White House, let alone to go there to welcome Pope Francis to his second leg of his tour of the United States.

So when state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, received the offer to be one of 15,000 to attend the welcoming ceremony on Wednesday, he jumped at the chance.

"It was not only an opportunity to see the pope in person, let alone a president, let alone both at the same time on the White House lawn," he said.

Schreiber, a Catholic from birth who attended 12 years of Catholic education, called the experience surreal.

He attended the ceremony with his wife, Jen, and his chief of staff, Sully Pinos.

Briefing: As part of the invitation, Schreiber attended a briefing for state legislators at the White House on Tuesday. He was the only Pennsylvania lawmaker to attend.

The briefing focused on two topics โ€” climate change and criminal justice reform โ€” President Barack Obama and Pope Francis hold dear.

On the topic of climate change, the roughly 20 state lawmakers also heard about the Power Plus Initiative, which is a proposal to address legacy costs in the American coal country, develop coal technology, revitalize depressed former coal boom towns and invest in workforce development and retraining, Schreiber said.

A dialogue on criminal justice reform had three major areas to address: entry into the system, what occurs during incarceration and re-entry into society, Schreiber said. The group also discusses public release of federal police data and the use of body cameras.

The trip: As for the trip to greet the pope, Schreiber said it meant a pre-dawn trek to the White House for Francis' 9 a.m. arrival.

When the pontiff arrived in his humble black Fiat 500, he was meet with pomp and pageantry and was greeted by the president and first lady Michelle Obama.

"Honest to God it was a surreal thing," Schreiber said, adding it was his first time seeing a pope in person.

Schreiber said he was inspired by Pope Francis' speech, which he gave in English, that focused mainly on climate change and helping the poor and people facing injustice.

"The pope makes a call that all U.S. Catholics foster an environment of inclusiveness," he said.

This was Pinos' second time seeing the pope. She saw St. John Paul II with her family when she was 5 years old in New York. Pinos, a lifelong Catholic, made a trek to the Vatican last year with her grandparents, but Pope Francis was out of town.

During the ceremony at the White House, she sent photographs of the pope to her family.

"I got a little emotion today," she said "Obviously today was a quick flashback to my trip to Rome."

In his address, the pope pointed out that he's the son of immigrants to Argentina, something that resonated with Pinos.

"To me, I'm the daughter of two immigrant parents. My parents came from Ecuador 30 years ago," she said, adding his speech about treating everyone the same, no matter their gender, race or creed, touched her.

Congress: The pope will address a joint session of Congress Thursday night before heading to New York City and then rounding out his trip in Philadelphia, where he'll celebrate Mass this weekend.

In a country divide on almost everything, including climate change, not everyone is embracing Pope Francis' message, and one congressman said he's boycotting the pope's speech to Congress.

Three-term Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said that as a Roman Catholic, he initially was excited to learn of the pope's visit to Washington and his address to Congress. But Gosar said he decided not to attend after he read media reports that the pope plans to devote much of the speech to advocating for what Gosar calls "flawed climate change policies."

But Schreiber said Pope Francis is preaching what other popes have done: Teaching others to care for their fellow man.

"I view it as him doing what he's supposed to do," he said.

โ€” Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.

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