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Pope’s city visit decision ‘months’ away.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Vatican remains silent on Holy Father's potential trip to Armagh.

A decision on whether Pope Francis will come to Northern Ireland as part of his visit to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin this August could still be months away.

It is expected that formal confirmation of his visit to Ireland could be made later this month although it is widely accepted that he will attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin and take part in the Festival of Families and the closing Mass.

The event is held every three years and it's understood the Pope was very much in favour of Ireland being selected for the next meeting. It is described as the world's largest Catholic gathering of families, a celebration of family life and of the Catholic Church's commitment to support families.

However it will be a lot later before a much-talked-about visit to Northern Ireland, with Armagh mooted as a possible venue, could be confirmed.

The normal Vatican protocol has been to not give full details of itineraries far in advance of a Papal visit. For example the Pope's latest visit to Chile was confirmed last June but firmer plans of his movements when in the country were not confirmed until much closer to his visit.

A spokesperson for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin told the Ulster Gazette this week that confirmation on the Holy Father's presence in Dublin could be made within weeks but further details of the visit, including a potential trip to Northern Ireland, could still be 'several months' away.

Meanwhile speculation is mounting that Pope Francis will make a trip north of the border. The last Papal visit to Ireland was in 1979 however the security status in Northern Ireland prevented Pope John Paul II coming further north than Drogheda in the archdiocese of Armagh where he appealed "on my knees" for an end to the violence in Northern Ireland.

The political landscape in Northern Ireland is somewhat different in 2018 with the mainstream Protestant churches broadly supportive of a visit by Pope Francis. The indications are that the Pope would be warmly welcomed by his own faithful and also the Protestant community - there has even been media speculation of the Queen and the Pope visiting Northern Ireland together.

Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, has already been put forward as a front runner to host a Papal Visit with the Mall and the Palace Demesne suggested as possible places for open-air events.

Speaking in 2016 when news of a potential visit to Northern Ireland by Pope Francis broke, Catholic primate of Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, said: "We would love to think that if the Pope is coming to Ireland that perhaps he might be able to visit Northern Ireland at the same time."


Archbishop Martin said the visit would be a "deeply symbolic and powerful moment" for those in Northern Ireland, coming after the visit of the Queen and the first state visit of Irish President Michael Higgins to London.

"That would be in my mind completed by a visit by the Holy Father to Northern Ireland, where he will be welcomed by members of all the traditions here," he said.

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