Pope Francis: Visit to Ireland in 2018 may include North

Pontiff confirms intention following meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Vatican

The last time a Pope visited Ireland was Pope John Paul II in 1979 and over two thirds of the population turned out to visit him. Video: Reuters/ Irish Foreign Ministry

 

Pope Francis may include a visit to Northern Ireland as part of a trip to Ireland in August 2018, it emerged on Monday following a meeting in Rome between the pontiff and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Following a 25-minute-long private audience in the Vatican, the Taoiseach said that he had explained that the Irish Government will “co-operate and assist” with any arrangements necessary for a northern leg to his journey.

The focus for Pope Francis’s trip will be the gathering in Dublin of the World Meeting of Families, which was last held in Philadelphia, where there were crowds of about 1 million.

The Irish event, which is to run over four days, is expected to draw significantly larger crowds, but will be far shy of the numbers that turned out in 1979 when Pope John Paul II came to the country.

The World Meeting of Families Congress “promotes the pastoral care of families, protects their rights and dignity in the church and in civil society, so that they may ever be more able to fulfil their duties”.

Northern Ireland

Saying that he appreciated the pope’s decision to come, Mr Kenny said the pontiff said he was aware of the role of the Catholic Church during the peace process and “didn’t express a desire not to go to Northern Ireland”.

Mr Kenny went on: “ John Paul couldn’t go because of the Troubles at the time, even if he did pray for peace on his knees [in Drogheda] calling on the men of violence to give up their ways.

“The Government will make whatever arrangements it needs to make and if it transpires that the pope wants to go to NI, to any part of NI, for a visit, we will co-operate and work with the [Northern] Executive,” he said.

While the Vatican continues to insist that he is going for a two-day, ‘in and out’ visit to Dublin related exclusively to the World Meeting of the Family, speculation for 30 years now has suggested that the next time a pope comes to Ireland, he must include Northern Ireland on his itinerary.

“This is a pope who has visited places that people did not expect him to visit,” said Mr Kenny, “He is a pope who is deliberately moving the church back towards the people, particularly towards the dispossessed.”

Referring to his famous Dáil attack on the Holy See in July 2011, the Taoiseach also confirmed that he had outlined his “difficulties” to Pope Francis about the church’s handling of sex abuse.

Warm relations

He rejected the notion that he had gone to Rome to apologise for past actions by Dublin, including the three-year closure of the Irish Embassy, to the Holy See: “I certainly did not come here cap in hand.”

He emphasised the current warm state of relations: “I must say that there is a particular presence about this pope, there is a particular sense of him being a very special person.

“I would say though that church-State relations in Ireland are in better shape now than for very many years,” said Mr Kenny, who was accompanied by his wife, Fionnuala at the Vatican audience.

After his meeting with the pope, the Taoiseach also met with Vatican prime minister, Cardinal Pietro Parolin and with foreign minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

Last year, Cardinal Parolin had called the result of Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum last year “a defeat” for humanity. During Monday’s meeting, the cardinal referred to his past views, said Mr Kenny.

“I said to him, ’You are perfectly entitled to make your comment but obviously the people had voted in a referendum which was the first of its kind in the world’,” he told The Irish Times.

“That vote is a signal around the world about the nature of our population now. The happiness it prompted and the fact that it allowed so many people who had lived in a limbo to have a full part in society. Cardinal Parolin understands this very clearly,” he said.