A pontiff who has long championed human kindness is coming to the City of Brotherly Love. Pope Francis confirmed today that he will make his first papal visit to the United States with a trip to Philadelphia next September for the World Meeting of Families. Francis' announcement, at an interreligious Vatican conference on traditional family values, ended months of lobbying and speculation. It will be the second papal visit to Philadelphia—John Paul II celebrated Mass in the city in 1979—and the first papal visit to the US in eight years. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter called it a "joyous day" and said Francis' visit would be the largest event in the city's modern history. Nutter, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, the conference's organizer, met with Francis at the Vatican and personally invited him in March.
Just last week, more than 10,000 Philadelphia Catholic school children sent handwritten notes encouraging the 77-year-old Francis to make the visit. The pope is also expected to visit New York and Washington, but a Vatican rep today said "I have no concrete information" on that. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the permanent observer of the Holy See, said that "if he comes to Philadelphia, he will come to New York." Chaput, at the Vatican for Francis' announcement today, said he "applauded the loudest" of the people cheering the news, "because we're very, very grateful for this opportunity." Francis is expected to participate in the conference's closing events and, like John Paul II, celebrate a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The boulevard, linking Philadelphia's city hall to the art museum steps made famous by Rocky, is home to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)