Hopes grew Friday that Pope Francis will pay his first-ever papal visit to the United States in 2015 after a senior cleric said he'd be attending a major Catholic event in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, speaking to Native American Catholics in North Dakota, said the 77-year-old pontiff had personally confirmed to him that he would attend the eighth World Meeting of Families.
"Pope Francis had told me he is coming" to the gathering that is scheduled for September 22-27 next year, he said, quoted by the Catholic News Service.
In Washington, a spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops told AFP: "The Vatican has not confirmed that."
And Chaput's own diocese, in a separate statement, said it expected any official confirmation to come about six months prior to the event.
But it added: "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...
"While Archbishop Chaput's comments do not serve as official confirmation, they do serve to bolster our sincere hope that Philadelphia will welcome Pope Francis next September."
Quoting a Vatican spokesman, the Catholic News Service said Pope Francis has also been invited to New York, Washington and the United Nations, on what would be his first US visit since his papacy begin in March 2013.
Organizers of the World Meeting of Families meanwhile appealed to Catholics to signal their support for a papal visit via social media, using the hashtag #PopeinPhilly.