Pope unlikely to visit Ireland for Eucharistic Congress in June


IT IS highly improbable that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Ireland next summer for the Eucharistic Congress in June.

Speaking before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore had suggested that if the Holy See were to request a papal visit to Ireland, he had no doubt that the Government would respond positively.

Senior Vatican figures expressed a certain wry amusement on reading reports of the Tanaiste’s statement, saying the Holy See does not normally “request” papal visits to anywhere, rather the request for a visit comes to the Holy See, from either a government or a bishop’s conference or often from both. In the case of Ireland, the pope has already been invited to Ireland for the Eucharistic Conference by the Irish bishops.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s travel plans for 2012 are close to completion and they do not include Ireland. The intention is for the pope to make three overseas visits – to Cuba and Mexico in March as well as to the Lebanon and to Ukraine, with precise dates for the latter two visits yet to be established.

Vatican figures said the pope already has an important engagement in early June when he is expected to attend World Family Day in Milan. Organised by the Pontifical Council for the Family, this event is scheduled to run from May 30th to June 3rd.

In a piece currently on the website, Vatican Insider, vaticanologist Gerard O’Connell said the decision not to go to Ireland had been taken as far back as June of this year, implying that it has nothing to do with any supposed deterioration of Vatican-Ireland relations subsequent to the Taoiseach’s July 20th attack on the Holy See or indeed subsequent to the decision to close the Irish Embassy to the Holy See.

Most Vatican observers agree that it was always highly improbable the pope would travel to Ireland next June. For many commentators, however, the recent unprecedented diplomatic upsets have completely eliminated any faint chance of a papal visit to Ireland.

It is also true the pope’s travel commitments have been reduced to a sustainable minimum. He still undertakes strenuous journeys such as his three-day trip to Benin last month or his proposed trip to Cuba next March. However, such trips are timed so as to give him plenty of time to recover his energy and strength.

An indication of the extent to which the Holy See is concerned about managing the pope’s energies came from the decision some weeks back to have him use a moving platform to spare him the long walk through the Basilica of St Peter’s.