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Mayor Walsh invites Pope Francis to Boston

Pope Francis arrived for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is making a push for the pontiff to visit here, but Cardinal Sean O’Malley previously expressed doubt over the likelihood of a Boston papal visit.

Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

Pope Francis arrived for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is making a push for the pontiff to visit here, but Cardinal Sean O’Malley previously expressed doubt over the likelihood of a Boston papal visit.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has asked Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley to hand-deliver a letter this week from the mayor inviting Pope Francis to Boston during the pontiff’s first US trip, tentatively planned for 2015.

O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston and the pope’s closest North American adviser, is in Rome for a meeting of the “G8” council of eight cardinals advising the pope on church governance reform and other matters, followed by a worldwide gathering of prelates that will culminate in the naming of 19 new cardinals Saturday.

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The cardinal has previously expressed doubt about the likelihood of a papal visit to Boston, but Walsh said he thought extending an invitation would be worth a try.

“I think people in Boston would be very excited about the pope coming,” the mayor said in an interview Thursday. “I think it would also be good for the city.”

In his six-paragraph letter to Francis, sent electronically to the archdiocese last week, the mayor spoke of Catholicism in both personal and civic terms. He described the importance of the church community during his years growing up in St. Margaret Parish in Dorchester, and he pointed to the significant presence of Catholicism in Boston, home to one of the largest archdioceses in the United States.

“The city of Boston has always been known as a city of profound faith: faith that its diversity makes it strong; faith in doing the right and appropriate thing for its poor; and faith in the power of truth and justice,” the mayor wrote.

Pope John Paul II, he noted, came to Boston in 1979, and the city named a 65-acre park in Dorchester after him.

“We would like you to consider blessing the park during your visit,” Walsh wrote, adding, in closing, “I would be deeply honored if you would accept this invitation.”

Walsh, a member of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Dorchester, sought O’Malley’s help in delivering the invitation when the two men attended a recent wake, the mayor recalled in the interview.

“He said he didn’t know if . . . [a visit] was feasible,” Walsh said, but “he said he would be honored to deliver the letter.”

The mayor’s office sent hard copies of the letter via US mail to the archdiocese, which will forward them to the Vatican, an aide to the mayor said.

Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for O’Malley, declined to say Thursday whether O’Malley had given the letter to the pope.

“Though there is much enthusiasm for the possibility of the Holy Father visiting the United States, the archdiocese is not able to comment, as there has been no announcement concerning any planning of a papal visit,” he said. “We appreciate the mayor’s recognition of the work of the church in his life and in the communities of Greater Boston.”

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, said in e-mail that the pope always receives invitations “with attention and gratitude,” but that “the decision to travel to a certain place is another thing, and it is too early now for me to speak of a concrete project of a visit of the Pope in the USA.”

Lombardi said the priorities for the moment are the pope’s upcoming trips to the Holy Land in May and to Asia later this year, “and for this year it will be enough for the intercontinental trips, I think.”

He said the schedule for next year is still to be determined.

The National Catholic Reporter, citing Vatican sources, reported last month that the pope has expressed an intention to visit the United States in September 2015 for the eighth World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, a church event highlighting the value of the family to society. The paper said there is also speculation that Francis may add a stop in New York for the annual UN General Assembly.

O’Malley, asked about the possibility of a Boston visit by Francis in a Globe interview earlier this month, suggested the chances are remote.

“I’d love to have him come to Boston, and I’ve mentioned it to him,” O’Malley said. “I’ll invite him again, but I’m realistic. I know it might not happen.”

The cardinal noted that the 77-year-old pontiff has said that he does not intend to travel as much as other popes have.

In the interview, O’Malley was asked whether visiting Boston, the site of a clergy sexual abuse crisis a dozen years ago, might hold special symbolic value for the pontiff, who has been criticized by some for not doing enough to address the issue.

O’Malley replied that “Boston and Philadelphia are redundant in that sense.”

Two grand jury investigations in Philadelphia concluded that church leaders there covered up clergy sexual abuse of minors for decades. Walsh did not mention the sexual abuse crisis in the letter.

O’Malley said he would also love to see the pope visit the Southwest or California, home to many Hispanic Catholics. But he said that may not be feasible either, given Francis’s age and reluctance to travel extensively. “If he only comes to New York and Philadelphia, well, we’ll take a lot of people from Boston,” he said.

Nearly 2 million people saw John Paul II, the first and only pontiff to visit Boston, during his trip in October 1979. After traveling through the city’s neighborhoods, John Paul held a prayer service for 2,000 priests and nuns at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and a Pontifical Mass on Boston Common. He spent the night at the chancery in Brighton.

Amid pouring rain and fog, the pope’s motorcade traveled 22 miles through Boston’s neighborhoods. Some onlookers were disappointed, after waiting for hours in the foul weather, that the pope’s car sped by so quickly; others were thrilled just to catch a glimpse.

Among them was Marty Walsh, then a sixth-grader, standing on the steps of St. Margaret school on Columbia Road. He and his classmates had decorated every window of their school with flags and banners welcoming the pope.

He still has the small Vatican flag someone handed him that day.

“It was huge, the pope coming by — I mean, absolutely,” he said. “If the pope were to come to Boston, certainly the excitement that would be generated . . . would be incredible.”

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lisa.wangsness@globe.com.
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