(RNS) It’s been the worst-kept secret in Christendom, but this week Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput gave the strongest indication yet that Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia next year.

For the first time in his papacy, Pope Francis met with clerical sex abuse victims at the Vatican on July 7, 2014.

Pope Francis is likely to visit Philadelphia in 2015. Creative Commons image by Catholic Church England and Wales

“Pope Francis has told me that he is coming,” Chaput said Thursday (July 25) before delivering a homily at a Mass in Fargo, N.D.

Chaput, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe, was in Fargo for a conference on Native Americans and invited his fellow Native Americans to the Eighth World Meeting of Families, set to take place in Philadelphia from Sept. 22-27, 2015.

“The pope will be with us the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of that week,” Chaput said, according to Catholic News Service. That would be Sept. 25-27.

Only the Vatican can officially confirm a papal visit, and such an announcement is not expected until six months or so before the visit.

A follow-up statement by the Philadelphia archdiocese on Friday reiterated that fact and said that while Chaput’s comments “do not serve as official confirmation, they do serve to bolster our sincere hope that Philadelphia will welcome Pope Francis next September.”

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput announced on July 24, 2014, that Pope Francis accepted an invitation to attend the World Meeting of Families in the U.S. next year.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput announced on July 24, 2014, that Pope Francis accepted an invitation to attend the World Meeting of Families in the U.S. next year. Creative Commons photo by Angela Cave

The statement said that Chaput’s “personal conversations with the Holy Father are the foundation for that confidence.”

The Vatican also sought to rein in speculation on Friday, issuing a cautious statement saying that Philadelphia is one of several invitations that Francis “is carefully considering.”

“The Holy Father has indicated his willingness to participate” in the Philadelphia event, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

But, he added, “at the present moment, there are no concrete plans or programs for any visits to the United States or Mexico. Keep in mind that we are still one year away from the Philadelphia meeting.”

A papal visit to Philadelphia has been a likelihood since June 2012, when then-Pope Benedict XVI announced that the city would host the global Catholic conference on family life, and that he intended to be there.

When Benedict resigned in February of 2013 and Francis was elected two weeks later, it was assumed that the new pope would also make the trip; a native Argentine, Francis has never been to the U.S. in any capacity.

Vatican officials have been visiting Philadelphia in recent months to start organizing the daunting logistics entailed in a papal visit and the massive crowds that the popular Francis will surely draw.

Also, in 2012, the Knights of Columbus, a leading Catholic charitable organization, donated $1 million to the archdiocese as a down payment on the enormous costs of the visit.

The money is key: Philadelphia has been hit hard by legal fees and settlements from the clergy sex abuse scandal, and declines in churchgoing and contributions have forced Chaput to make painful cutbacks to programs and to close parishes. It was unrealistic to expect the cash-strapped archdiocese to foot the bill for the trip.

The real question now may be where else the pontiff will visit: New York? Washington? Maybe even the border with Mexico to make a statement on immigration?

All three venues are possible, even likely.

President Bush welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the White House on Wednesday (April 16). Benedict is only the second pope to visit the White House.  Religion News Service photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar.

President Bush welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the White House on April 16, 2008. Benedict is only the second pope to visit the White House. Religion News Service photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar.


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

New York has been a priority for every pope who has visited the U.S. since pontiffs began traveling internationally in the 1960s, and the United Nations General Assembly will be in session in late September 2015. Church observers say it’s hard to believe Francis will not address the world body to press his concerns about world peace, human rights, and economic inequality.

A stopover in Washington is also a possibility.

Last March, on the first anniversary of Francis’ election, House leaders invited Francis to become the first pope to address a joint session of Congress. Other popes have visited the White House. Benedict was the last to do so, meeting President George W. Bush there in 2008.

Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston and 7 other bishops celebrate Mass on the US-Mexico border in Arizona to commemorate the deaths of migrants in the desert and to pray for immigration reform on April 1, 2014.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and seven other bishops celebrate Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona to commemorate the deaths of migrants in the desert and to pray for immigration reform on April 1, 2014. Creative Commons image by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston

The real wild card is the possibility that Francis would visit the U.S. border with Mexico, as Mexican leaders and some church officials have said he might. That would make a powerful statement about immigration, a contentious issue in American politics.

Francis has made the treatment of migrants and refugees a core theme of his pontificate: He traveled to the Italian island of Lampedusa in his first official papal trip to celebrate Mass in memory of the untold numbers of Africans who have drowned in desperate efforts to flee poverty and danger.

That act inspired a Mass on behalf of immigrants that leading U.S. bishops celebrated in Arizona in April at the 30-foot security wall that the U.S. has built along the U.S.-Mexico border.

KRE/AMB END GIBSON

1 Comment

  1. Such a visit would be superb, an immensely good counterpoint to all the political antics and other crude behavior that are displayed in Washington, in cities across this country, and along our southern border by those claiming to be good Christians but who act as inhumane bigots. They cannot be Christians because their god is filthy lucre.

    The whole world suffers more and more because of the evil control exerted by thugs whose god is money, nothing else. Add to that the fact that innumerable citizens of this country forget and/or ignore the fact that they would not be citizens of this land they claim to love if it were not for their immigrant ancestors, most of whom arrived here within the past 100-200 years.

    “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…’ of despots and drugs and all the life-destroying poverty and crimes that are involved in the cultures from which they yearn to escape. Who can blame them? All our ancestors did the very same thing!

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