Papal visit speculation dismissed


A spokeswoman for the Catholic bishops has said the Church in Ireland is not aware of any plans by Pope Benedict to visit Ireland.

She was responding to a newspaper article this morning which said the Pope was to visit Ireland for two days next year.

The spokeswoman did point out, however, that there was an open invitation from the bishops of Ireland for him to come here.

Since Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in September 1979, there has been regular speculation about another papal visit to this island. John Paul was unable to visit Northern Ireland due to the Troubles.  It was said afterwards that John Paul remained anxious to complete his Irish visit at some time with a visit to Armagh, Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital

A month before that papal visit, on August 27th 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten, uncle of Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh and a second cousin of Queen Elizabeth, was killed in an IRA bomb in a boat off Mullaghmore, Co Sligo.

Lord Mountbatten’s grandson Nicholas Knatchbull and Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old local boy, were also killed. Lady Brabourne, mother in law of Lord Mountbatten’s daughter, died of injuries the following day.

That same day, 18 British soldiers were killed when two bombs planted by the IRA exploded at Warrenpoint in Co Down.

Following both events it was decided, for security reasons, that Pope John Paul would not include any Northern Ireland venue in his visit. Instead, on September 29th, 1979, he said Mass at Drogheda, which is in the Armagh archdiocese.

Almost yearly since then, and particularly since the Belfast Agreement was signed on Good Friday in 1998, the prospect of a papal visit has been raised.

This was particularly so following the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the Republic in May of last year and in anticipation of the Eucharistic Congress, which took place in Dublin last month.

The latest bout of such speculation seems to have been prompted by the handshake in Belfast last Wednesday between the queen and Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

A papal visit to include Northern Ireland is seen as one of the few events anticipated as part of the peace process which has yet to take place.