Pope Francis has announced on Monday that he plans to visit the United States in September of next year, making him only the fourth Roman Catholic pope to visit this country.
"I wish to confirm according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families," Pope Francis told the crowd at the Vatican conference on traditional marriage. "Thank you for your prayers with which you accompany my service to the Church. Bless you from my heart."
Previously, only three other reigning popes have visited the United States: Pope Paul VI in 1965, Pope John Paul II who visited seven different times, and Pope Benedict XVI, who visited in 2008.
The pope will visit Philadelphia as part of the Roman Catholic Church's World Meeting of Families from September 22nd through the 27th. Although Philadelphia is the only confirmed stop on his U.S. visit, it's believed that he may also stop in Washington D.C. and New York after receiving formal invitations from both cities.
He is expected to attend Mass on September 27 in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art along with millions of other people, according to World Meeting of Families officials.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia showed excitement over the news. "I am overjoyed by Pope Francis' announcement that he will join with us for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next year. As I've said many times before, I believe that the presence of the Holy Father will bring all of us -- Catholic and non-Catholic alike -- together in tremendously powerful, unifying and healing ways."
Pope Francis has already gained positive recognition as a less formal and less flashy pope, refusing traditional adornments and insisting on living in the Vatican's guesthouse rather than the same papal quarters where his predecessors had lived. His views on homosexuality and focus on providing for the poor has boosted his popularity among both Catholics and non-Catholics and labeled him as a more "modern" Holy Father.
In a now-famous quote from earlier this year, Pope Francis stated, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We shouldn't marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society."
Addressing these current hot topics has been a trademark of the pope during his papal capacity, but he takes it all with humble advice. "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person."
As Archbishop Chaput puts it, "A hallmark of his papacy has been a keen focus on the many challenges that families face today globally. His charisma, presence and voice will electrify the gathering."
The pope's visit to the United States will happen only weeks before Catholic bishops are scheduled to meet in the Vatican to address the church's final stance on homosexuality and the issue of divorcees receiving communion.