Pope Francis announced on Monday he would visit the United States next year, his first trip there as leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church.
Francis ended months of speculation when he told an inter-religious conference on marriage he would go to Philadelphia in September for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was in Rome when the announcement was made and said he was “overjoyed” at the prospect of the pope’s attendance.
“A hallmark of his papacy has been a keen focus on the many challenges that families face today globally. His charisma, presence and voice will electrify the gathering,” Chaput said in a statement.
“As I’ve said many times before, I believe that the presence of the Holy Father will bring all of us – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – together in tremendously powerful, unifying and healing ways,” he said.
Francis would be the fourth pope to visit the United States, the archdiocese said. Pope Benedict XVI came to America in 2008 and Pope John Paul II in 1979.
Catholics in Philadelphia said they were thrilled at the news.
“I want to show him the people and what faith they have,” said Joseph Micucci, 76, a deacon at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in the Center City district.
The Archdiocese in Philadelphia was hard-hit by the sex abuse scandals that rocked the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.
Philadelphia’s Monsignor William Lynn, who was secretary of the clergy, was the highest-ranking clergyman in the United States to be convicted.
Lynn was found guilty of covering up child sex abuse by priests. He served 18 months in prison before his conviction was overturned. It is on appeal.
Joe Miller, 72, who works as an ambassador to greet visitors at the Cathedral, said he was working as a police officer when Pope John Paul II visited and got to meet him personally.
“He asked me how I was doing, shook my hand and that was it. He was a regular guy and the leader of the church,” Miller said.
When Francis comes, he said, “I want to see him, shake his hand and wish him luck like anybody would.
“It’s a feather in their hat to have two popes come to the city of Philadelphia,” he said.
The pope’s trip is also expected to include stops at the White House and Congress in Washington and the United Nations, but the pope did not mention those places in his address.
Catholic officials in Philadelphia have said a papal Mass would draw up to a million people.
The World Meeting of Families, set to be held Sept. 22-27, 2015, meets every three years. It is intended to strengthen the bonds of family worldwide and highlight the value of family bonds to society, the archdiocese said.
Next year would be its first meeting in the United States.
Details of the pope’s visit were expected to be made public in the spring, according to the archdiocese.
He is likely to attend a Festival of Families on Sept. 26 and a Mass the following day, it said.
The pope is due to visit Turkey and European institutions in Strasbourg, France, in two separate trips this month. In January, he travels to the Philippines and Sri Lanka, making his second trip to Asia.