PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The next World Meeting of Families will be held in 2018 in Dublin, church officials announced Sunday, placing the event in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country that has been ground zero for the church’s clergy sex abuse crisis outside the United States.

The announcement was made near the end of a public Mass celebrated in front of hundreds of thousands of people in Philadelphia. This year’s meeting was held in Philadelphia and was the original reason that Francis came to the United States.

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If the pope attends the 2018 event, he would be the first papal visit to Ireland since John Paul II’s three-day tour in 1979, the first visit to Ireland by any pontiff.

The Catholic Church remains central to Irish life despite having its authority shattered from two decades of sex abuse cover-ups.

About 85 percent of the 4.6 million people in the Republic of Ireland are Catholics; the overwhelming majority of state-funded schools and hospitals are run by church authorities; and Ireland maintains the strictest ban on abortion in Europe. The state TV and radio tolls the Angelus call to prayer twice daily at noon and 6 p.m.

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The World Meeting of Families is an event that happens every three years. It was started by John Paul II in 1994 and is dedicated to celebrating the church’s role in building family. The Dublin conference will be the ninth.

While it is widely expected that the pope would attend, popes have skipped them and sent messages instead. That has only happened though when they were far from Rome, including the 2003 edition in the Philippines and the 2009 meeting in Mexico.

“I am delighted to hear that Pope Francis has announced that the 9th World Meeting of Families will take place in Dublin, and that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is in Philadelphia with our delegation to hear the news directly from the Holy Father,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic primate forIreland. “Three years ago the 50th International Eucharistic Congress was a great celebration of faith for Ireland, and it attracted pilgrims from all around the world. I am confident that the World Meeting of Families in 2018 will also be an uplifting event for all of us.”

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