By Nina Terrero
Updated September 22, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Colombian rock artist Juanes has performed for packed stadiums and concert venues both in the U.S. and abroad, but he says those shows pale in comparison to his planned performance for Pope Francis in Philadelphia later this week.

“It’s like I’ve been waiting my entire life to perform at an event like this,” says the 42-year-old. “I was shocked when I received the invitation. I couldn’t believe it, and I’m very grateful. It’s a great opportunity for me, my career, and for music in general.”

As a result, Juanes has been putting in plenty of rehearsal time ahead of taking the stage at the Festival of Families on Sept. 26. “I’ve been rehearsing in Miami all week with my band,” says the singer/songwriter. “We’re all very emotional and excited about it.”

The Grammy-winning musician, who is working on a new album tentatively scheduled for a 2016 release, has decided on a three-song set list that includes the hit singles “A Dios Le Pido,” “Odio por Amor,” and an as-yet-untitled song he says addresses the increasing violence in his native Colombia.

“It’s inspired by some statistics that I found about what’s going on in Colombia,” explains Juanes, who premiered the song at World Humanitarian Day in New York last month. “It struck me, the amount of suffering there. So I wanted to write a song that would highlight the importance of love and family for people who feel abandoned.”

The Mark Walberg-hosted event precedes an outdoor Sunday papal Mass, which organizers estimate will draw more than a million people. And Juanes will be in the company of several other major headliners at the Catholic Church-sponsored Festival of Families concert, as tenor Andrea Bocelli, the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Fray and renowned singer Aretha Franklin are also set to perform.

Juanes — a leading social activist among his Latin music peers — says he hopes his appearance at the event will bolster support for Hispanics and immigration reform. “I feel honored to represent Colombia and all Hispanics, especially during these days when someone is trying to take us out of this country,” says Juanes, referencing Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about U.S. Latinos earlier this summer. “This is a great opportunity to show the country that Latinos are strong. The Pope is from Argentina, I’m from Colombia, and many, many Latinos are going to be in the audience.”

Though the Pope has yet to make any official remarks about immigration during his time in the U.S., Juanes says the family-focused concert event might prove an ideal opportunity. “Whether you’re Catholic or another religion, he’s spreading strong and inspiring messages to everyone,” says Juanes

“I hope he speaks on the immigration issue, and because I consider the peace process in Colombia very important, I hope the Pope will share a few words about what is happening there too.”