Despite reports by the country's news agencies the Vatican says 'no travel programme' is currently being studied

Pope Francis has accepted an invitation from the Pakistan government to visit the country later this year, according to the country’s news agencies.

Two ministers, Kamran Michael, a Catholic, and Sardar Muhammad Yousaf, the minister for religious affairs, visited Pope Francis on March 2 in Vatican City to extend the invitation, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) news agency.

However, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi told the National Catholic Register that there is “currently no travel programme to Pakistan being studied”.

The Pope was thankful for the invitation but neither accepted nor declined, Vatican sources told the Register.

The only previous Pope to visit Pakistan was St Pope John Paul II, who celebrated Mass at the National Stadium in Karachi. A small bomb exploded minutes before his arrival.

Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi said the possibility of Pope Francis coming to Pakistan was encouraging. “The minority Christians will be definitely encouraged,” he told ucanews.com. “However, the security of the Holy Father will be the sole responsibility of the government.”

Fr Saleh Diego, director of the bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace in Karachi archdiocese, said: “This is totally unexpected. Our joy know no bounds ever since we heard about it.

“The Pope might tie up his visit with his tour to India slated for 2017. However, this is a big risk for the government as things are different than they were when Pope John Paul II had visited Karachi in 1981,” he said.

Fr Diego also warned that there were severe security concerns in the country, pointing out that “the Taliban are still targeting institutes and intolerance is generally prevalent in the society”.