PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Whether Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia during a major gathering of the world's Roman Catholics remained a matter of speculation Friday after the archdiocese said a report he would attend should not be considered confirmation.
The Catholic News Service had published comments that Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput made Thursday in North Dakota, reporting that he announced at a Mass that "Pope Francis has told me that he is coming" to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
The archdiocese, however, cautioned in a statement that Chaput's comments weren't "official confirmation" and that church officials would expect that to come about six months prior to the event scheduled for September 2015.
"Archbishop Chaput has frequently shared his confidence in Pope Francis' attendance at the World Meeting and his personal conversations with the Holy Father are the foundation for that confidence," the statement said.
A Vatican spokesman added that although Francis has said "he is willing" to attend, there is "no operating plan or preparations underway" for a visit.
The popular Francis has yet to visit the U.S. as pope, and the question of whether he will attend the Philadelphia gathering has drawn intense speculation. Popes have attended five of the past seven such conferences around the globe, and Pope Benedict had announced his intention to come when the city was announced as the venue for the gathering.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, noted that Pope Francis has received other invitations to visit North America, including from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who met this week with the Vatican's No. 2 official in Rome, as well as one from Mexico.
Benedict made the last papal visit to the U.S. in 2008, a six-day pilgrimage during which he went to Washington and New York. The most recent visit to Philadelphia by a pontiff was in 1979, when Pope John Paul II drew gigantic crowds as part of his first papal tour of the country.
The Catholic News Service said it stood by its account of the archbishop's remarks.