FARGO, N.D. - Pope Francis will make his first visit to the United States in September 2015, visiting Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, according to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.
However, the Philadelphia Archdiocese said there is no official confirmation from the Vatican of the Pope’s visit. A Vatican spokesman told the Associated Press that although Francis has said “he is willing” to attend, there is “no operating plan or preparations underway” for a visit.
Fr. Andrea Ciucci of the Pontifical Council of the Family told the Globe in Rome that the pope “is considering participating on the World Meeting of the Family, he has expressed his wish, and other cities beyond Philadelphia are being considered.”
“We all hope that Francis goes to Philadelphia,” he said. “We are working on this, and we’ll do everything we can to make it happen.”
The announcement by Archbishop Chaput came during a Mass here Thursday, part of the Tekakwitha Conference, a national gathering of Native American Catholics.
“Pope Francis has told me that he is coming,” Chaput said. He indicated that the pope will spend three days in Philadelphia, Sept. 25 to 27, 2015. “The pope will be with us the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of that week,” he said.
Earlier today, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said that Pope Francis has expressed “his willingness to participate in the World Meeting of Families,” according to the Catholic News Service, but no official plans have been arranged.
“Keep in mind, there is still more than a year to go before the meeting in Philadelphia,” Lombardi said.
Pope Francis was invited earlier this year to address a joint session of Congress in Washington, which would be a papal first. The Vatican said he is reviewing that invitation, as well as invitations to visit New York and the United Nations, but no decisions have been reached.
On Monday, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, on vacation in Italy, said he met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin “to relate how important it would be for the people of New York City to have the pope visit.”
The papal visit to the country could include a stop in the U.S.-Mexico border.
After a private meeting with the pontiff, Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, announced that the pope confirmed that he plans to visit Mexico at some point next year. Although no specific date has been announced, it seems probable that he might do so during the same trip to the US.
A visit to the border would mirror a trip there earlier this year by several Catholic bishops, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, one of the pope’s “gang of 8” advisors. Pope Francis recently commented on the migration crisis at the US border, calling for the unaccompanied minors to “be welcomed and protected.” He said migrants “continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.”
The last pope to visit the U.S. was Benedict XVI, who visited New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2008. He delivered a speech at the U.N. General Assembly, met with a group of sex abuse victims, said a prayer at Ground Zero, and conducted Masses at Yankee Stadium and Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
The World Meeting of Families is an event sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family that takes place every three years in different cities around the world. The first one was in held in 1994, and was envisioned by late Saint John Paul II as a way to “strengthen the sacred bonds of family.”
Last month, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops extended an official invitation to Pope Francis to attend the Philadelphia meeting, the theme of which is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”
Chaput said in May that the goal of the meeting is “to create a moment of hope and celebration for all of the world’s families.”
The next World Council of Families is expected to be particularly noteworthy because it follows an October 2014 “extraordinary synod,” or global meeting of bishops, at the Vatican devoted to family issues. There, bishops are expected to discuss many issues related to family life, including divorce and remarriage, contraception, and same-sex relationships.