LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Catholics from around the Southland were preparing on Monday to head to the East Coast to greet Pope Francis for his historic U.S. visit later this week.

The papal visit will begin with an appearance at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. shortly after 6 a.m. PDT on Thursday, where Francis will meet with House Speaker John Boehner.

Francis will then address a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at 10 a.m. Vice President Joe Biden, diplomats, justices and Cabinet members are expected to attend in a jam-packed chamber. As KCAL9’s Dave Bryan reports, the visit to Washington is imbued with political significance.

After Washington, Pope Francis will travel to New York and Philadelphia.

Many Southland Catholics will traverse the country to catch a glimpse of Francis. The main attraction is the canonization of 18th Century Franciscan Missionary Junipero Serra, who founded nine California missions.

The canonization is not without controversy, however, as some Native American groups claim Serra and other missionaries displaced Native American culture.

A group of about 16 students from JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano will also be leaving Tuesday from LAX to see the canonization of Serra, who founded Mission San Juan Capistrano.

“To have a saint canonized in the Americas, it hasn’t happened before,” said JSerra High School student Joe Santoro. “To have that saint be the namesake of my school, it’s such a unique experience.”

And 10 people from Mission San Buenaventura will also make the journey to see the canonization. Junipero Serra founded Mission San Buenaventura in 1782.

“It usually happens in Rome, in St. Peter’s Square,” said Sister Mary Rose of Mission San Buenaventura. “It’s very unusual for the Pope to actually come to the United States and have a canonization here.”

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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