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White House, Ground Zero Eyed for Pope Francis' U.S. Visit

The itinerary is still up in the air, but a U.S. committee is batting around ideas for the papal trip in September.

Pope Francis' trip to the United States this fall could include visits to the White House, the United Nations and Ground Zero, and even a Mass at Madison Square Garden — although no plans have been settled, organizers say.

The pontiff, who just completed a record-shattering visit to the Phillippines, has committed to traveling to Philadelphia in September for the World Meeting of Families, but the rest of the itinerary is up in the air.

Archbishop Bernadito Auza, who was in Manila with the pope last week, told the Catholic News Agency that a U.S. committee expects Francis will also visit Washington, D.C., and New York before heading to the City of Brotherly Love.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said excitement over the prospect has reached fever-pitch. "You can't go to anything connected to the Archdiocese without people asking if Pope Francis is coming," Zwilling said.

He said he was in New York for Pope John Paul II's second visit in 1995 and for Pope Benedict XVI's trip in 2008 but thinks "a visit by Pope Francis is going to easily surpass either of those two events."

But, he cautioned, the Vatican has not confirmed that the 79-year-old Catholic leader will be going anywhere but Philadelphia at this point.

The United Nations General Assembly will be in session the week of the visit, which would give the pope the chance to address many of the world's leaders.

Benedict has already visited Ground Zero, but the 9/11 memorial and museum has opened since then. Depending on how long Francis is in New York, he could say Mass, and Madison Square Garden has been mentioned as a possible venue, organizers say.

Auza told the Catholic New Agency that there could be a Mass at Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — after a welcoming ceremony at the White House.

In Philadelphia, the Pope is set to say Mass and conduct a prayer vigil during the families meeting. He will also visit either a children's hospital or a juvenile prison, the archbishop said.


— Tracy Connor