NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s official!
Pope Francis is coming to the United States.
Francis confirmed Monday that he will attend the World Meeting of Families conference in Philadelphia in September 2015. The conference is held every three years in a different city to celebrate the importance of family.
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 center city Philadelphia have already sold out.
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.
The pope is also expected to visit New York and Washington, but Vatican officials Monday would not confirm those legs of the trip.
The pope “wanted to guarantee his presence to the organizers of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia 2015, but for the rest I have nothing to say, no concrete information to give,” the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters.
But as 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported, Cardinal Timothy Dolan was helping to fill food bags Monday at Our Lady of Sorrows Church on Pitt Street on the Lower East Side. He said he believes Pope Francis will come up Interstate 95 to New York, with a visit to the United Nations for the 50th anniversary of a visit by Pope Paul VI.
“We don’t have it official. I’ve got a good hunch that he is,” Dolan said. “He has told me personally that he knows of my invitation, he would like to come, and he hopes to be able to.”
The Vatican’s envoy to the UN last week strongly hinted that Francis would visit New York to address world leaders at the General Assembly, saying the coming 70th anniversary of the world body would be “the ideal time.”
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the permanent observer of the Holy See, told The Associated Press that “if he comes to Philadelphia, he will come to New York.”
As WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported, Dolan said if he gets confirmation that the pope is coming to New York, he will shout it from the rooftops. He said the visit would probably be for a full day, at the UN and at with a jam-packed schedule that would include St. Patrick’s.
Dolan has already told contractors that he wants the remodel of St. Patrick’s Cathedral done in time for a September 2015 papal visit.
“I have been prodding them for about the last three months, when it became rather likely that the Holy Father would be coming, and they are doing very well,” Dolan said.
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 XVI, 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.
Francis’ visit will come just weeks before the 50th anniversary of the first papal visit to the U.S. Pope Paul VI addressed the United Nations General Assembly, attended the New York World’s Fair and celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium in October 1965.
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