Francis confirmed Monday that he will travel to Philadelphia next September for the World Meeting of Families, a conference held every three years in a different city to celebrate the importance of family.
Francis’ announcement, at an interreligious Vatican conference on traditional family values, ended months of lobbying and speculation.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, the conference’s organizer, met with Francis at the Vatican and personally invited him to the city in March, and Vatican officials toured the city in May.
Just last week, more than 10,000 Philadelphia Catholic school children sent handwritten notes encouraging Francis to make the visit.
Chaput was at the Vatican for Francis’ announcement Monday and told The Associated Press, “I applauded the loudest.”
Francis, making just the second papal visit to Philadelphia and his first visit to the U.S. as pope, is expected to participate in the conference’s closing events and celebrate a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The boulevard, linking Philadelphia’s city hall to the art museum steps made famous by the movie “Rocky,” is home to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and has been the backdrop for summer concerts and parades attracting hundreds of thousands of people.
Officials have said the World Meeting of Families on Sept. 25-27 could attract more than 1 million people. Hotels within a 10-mile radius of centre city Philadelphia have already sold out.
Francis is also expected to address Congress and deliver a speech to the United Nations in New York to mark its 70th anniversary.
Details of Francis’ itinerary will not be finalized until next spring or summer, conference organizers said.
Pope John Paul II, canonized by Francis in April, celebrated Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of an estimated 1 million people in 1979.
Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, was the last pontiff to visit the U.S. He celebrated Mass in New York and Washington, met with President George W. Bush and spoke to the United Nations during a five-day trip in April 2008.