Pope may include Ulster on first visit to Ireland since 1979

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Pope John Paul II has accepted "in principle" an invitation to visit Ireland for the first time in 25 years, the head of the Irish Catholic Church announced yesterday.

Pope John Paul II has accepted "in principle" an invitation to visit Ireland for the first time in 25 years, the head of the Irish Catholic Church announced yesterday.

Catholic bishops last month invited Pope John Paul II to come to Ireland in September to mark the 25th anniversary of his first visit here in 1979. This time, Catholics hope the pontiff will include Northern Ireland on his trip and become the first head of the Catholic Church ever to venture north of the Irish border.

But the proposed papal visit is thought unlikely to be scheduled this year and no mention has yet been made whether the 84-year-old pontiff will visit Northern Ireland.

Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland and the leader of Ireland's four million Catholics, said yesterday: "Our invitation has been placed before the Holy Father and a reply has been received ... indicating that the proposed visit has, in principle, been accepted,

"We are delighted with this response and hope that this visit will take place. The date of the visit has yet to be decided but given the commitments of the Holy Father for the remainder of the year ... a visit in 2004, while not ruled out, is rather unlikely."

The Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, a devout Catholic, said he remembered the success of the Pope's previous visit in 1979 and looked forward to the "co-operation of all civil authorities in trying to make the forthcoming visit a success".

The Pope was greeted by vast crowds and celebrated mass for more than a million people in Dublin. In an appeal for the IRA to stop its violence in Northern Ireland, he declared: "On my knees I beg of you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace. You may claim to seek justice ... but violence only delays the day of justice."

The Pope cancelled plans to visit Armagh in the north, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland - the Vatican citing a surge in IRA violence after the outlawed group assassinated Lord Mountbatten and killed 18 British paratroopers in a border ambush the previous month. There were also fears of protests by Protestant hard-liners. However, with a fragile peace process now in place, the likelihood of his visiting Northern Ireland is thought to be greatly increased, although some evangelical Protestant leaders, including the province's longest-serving politician the Reverend Ian Paisley, still brand the pope an "anti-Christ" and vow to protest against any visit.

Any decision on the Pope visiting Northern Ireland would depend on the permission of the British government, which would have to mount a massive security operation to protect him, and also on his health.

Comments