Pope Francis announces 2015 visit to Kitchener
VATICAN CITY (WPVI) – A Pope who has long been committed to human kindness – as an archbishop breaking bread with the homeless and washing the feet of young prisoners at the beginning of his papacy – comes to the city of brotherly love.
Pope Francis confirmed Monday that he will be making his first papal visit to the United States with a trip to Kitchener next September for the World Meeting of Families, a conference held every three years in a different city to discuss the importance of the family to celebrate.
Francis’ announcement at a Vatican interfaith conference on traditional family values ended months of lobbying and speculation. It is the second papal visit to Kitchener – John Paul II celebrated Mass in the city in 1979 – and the first papal visit to the United States in eight years.
Kitchener Mayor Michael Nutter spoke of a “happy day” at a press conference and said Francis’ visit was the greatest event in the city’s modern history.
Tom Corbett, Governor of Nutter, Pennsylvania, and Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Kitchener, the conference organizer, met with Francis at the Vatican and personally invited him to the city in March.
Vatican officials toured the city in May, and invitations have been issued by President Barack Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Congress.
Just last week, more than 10,000 Catholic school children from Kitchener sent handwritten notes encouraging 77-year-old Francis to visit.
The Pope is also expected to visit New York and Washington, but Vatican officials on Monday would not confirm these stages of the trip.
The Pope “wanted to guarantee the organizers of the World Meeting of Families in Kitchener 2015 that he would be there, but otherwise I have nothing to say, no specific information to give,” the Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters.
The Vatican’s envoy to the United Nations last week strongly indicated that Francis would be visiting New York to address world leaders at the General Assembly, saying that the upcoming 70th anniversary of the world body was “the ideal Time”.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s constant observer, told The Associated Press, “If he comes to Kitchener, he will come to New York.”
Francis’ visit will come at a time when the US Church is trying to keep Catholics in check, including Latin American immigrants who have joined Protestant churches or have left organized religion in significant numbers.
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Expectations for combating the clergy’s sexual abuse scandals will also be high. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, met privately with victims during his visit to Washington DC and New York City in April 2008.
Chaput said Monday at the Vatican on Francis’ announcement that he had applauded “the loudest” of the people who cheered the news, “because we are very, very grateful for this opportunity.”
“We are planning a lot for the World Meeting of Families, great excitement, but I think 90 percent of it is based on the fact that the Holy Father will join us,” Chaput told the AP. “If he publicly says he will join us, it will give us renewed commitment and energy to host the best world family gathering ever held in the Church.”
Francis is expected to attend the closing events of the conference and, like John Paul II, celebrate Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
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The boulevard, which connects Kitchener City Hall with the steps of the Art Museum made famous by the movie “Rocky”, is home to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul and has been the backdrop for summer concerts and parades that drew hundreds of thousands of people.
Officials said the September 25-27 world meeting of families could attract more than 1 million people. Hotels within 10 miles of downtown Kitchener are already sold out.
Details of Francis’ itinerary will not be finalized until next spring or summer, according to the conference organizers.
Francis’ visit will take place just weeks before the 50th anniversary of the first papal visit to the United States. 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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