LA PAZ, Bolivia (CNS) — Bolivian President Evo Morales told his people they must start preparing for a visit from Pope Francis in July.

“In July, the pope is going to visit,” Morales said, according to comments published on the president’s website. “It’s a verbal communication, nothing official still.”

His remarks were made Jan. 19, the day Pope Francis arrived back in Rome from a visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. On the flight back, he said he hoped to visit Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay this year, although the trip was still in the “hypothetical” planning stage. He also said he hoped to visit two African countries and confirmed a September visit to the United States.


Morales said Pope Francis “is going to start in Paraguay, (then travel to) Bolivia and Ecuador.”

The Vatican has not confirmed these plans. Attempts to confirm details with the Archdiocese of La Paz and Bolivian bishops’ conference were unsuccessful.

St. John Paul II is the only pope to have visited Bolivia, doing so in 1988.

Morales visited Pope Francis at the Vatican in October. There, the president said, “He told me that he wanted to visit La Paz,” the high-altitude capital of Bolivia. The country has two capitals, La Paz and Sucre.

Pope Francis will travel to Washington, New York and Philadelphia in September, when he will address a joint session of Congress and the U.N. General Assembly and participate in the World Meeting of Families.

While speaking to the press on the flight, Pope Francis also expressed an interest in visiting three more South American countries in 2016: Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

Observers in Argentina say he wanted to return to his home country only after elections are held in late 2015 and a new president is sworn in, so as to be seen as not meddling in internal politics.

Pope Francis has made one other trip to South America since being elected, visiting Brazil in 2013 for World Youth Day.