LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Pope Francis’ six-day, three-city tour of the U.S. this week evolved from a pledge he made last fall to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Stops in Washington and New York were added after Francis put the triennial, Vatican-sponsored conference on his agenda. It opens Tuesday.

Organizers describe the conference that blends prayer, religious instruction and faith-themed lectures as the world’s largest gathering of Catholic families.

With more than 18,000 people signed up, this year’s will be the most attended of the eight World Meetings.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired Archbishop of Los Angeles, will be traveling with the Pope when he meets with President Obama and speaks to Congress.

Mahony told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO audiences can expect to hear some frank words from this unconventional leader of the Catholic Church.

“The Pope is going to be very, very cordial, very upbeat, very hope-filled,” said Mahony. “But I think he’s gonna challenge us as a world leader.”

Mahony, who was among the voting College of Cardinals in selecting the new pontiff, was forced to defend his controversial presence on the panel in 2013 after a large contingent of Catholics in Los Angeles thought, due to the sex abuse scandal, that Mahony should sit out the vote.

He was relieved of all administrative and public duties in Jan. 2013 for mishandling child sex abuse claims against dozens of priests dating back to the 1980s.

He defended his role and said the L.A. Archdiocese was now one of the safest institutions for children because of his work. Mahony also insisted the public outcry against him was due to misinformation.

“Much of the criticism comes from ignorance of not knowing what has happened,” he said. “And the extraordinary efforts we have taken — we have passed every compliance audit with flying colors. And I dare, find somebody who can tell me what have we not done yet, please let me know…we’ll do it.”

Francis arrives Saturday in Philadelphia. His packed schedule includes the World Meeting’s closing concert and an outdoor Mass.

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