Hopes rise for Pope Francis visit

State visit invitation on the cards

Paul Keenan and Cathal Barry

Hopes are rising that Pope Francis will shortly visit Ireland, giving a much-needed boost to Catholics here. The Pontiff’s representative in Dublin, Archbishop Charles Brown, has already held high-level discussions with senior Gove rnment figures to explore a possible visit.

Archbishop Brown met senior politicians in Leinster House last week including Tánaiste and Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore. It follows a decision by the Senate to invite the Pontiff to pay a visit to Ireland. Sources confirmed to The Irish Catholic this week that the visit is being given “serious consideration” and is described as a realistic prospect.

Recent comments by President Michael D. Higgins praising the Pope’s global leadership are also being interpreted as signaling to the Vatican that the Government would welcome a visit by Pope Francis.

The Irish Catholic understands that the Vatican would consider any invitation from the Government in the context of a so-called one-island approach where the Pontiff would visit sites on both sides of the border. Given the significance of Armagh both ecclesiastically and as a diocese which straddles the border, a visit to the city is considered a must.

Senator David Norris, who has been pushing for such an invitation told The Irish Catholic that “a visit by the Pope would be wonderful. It would be good for the country. Let’s hope he does visit.

“He is one of the very few people with a genuinely global vision on topics such as human rights, unemployment, young people, the financial system,” Senator Norris said.

While Cardinal Seán Brady issued an informal invitation to the Pope to visit shortly after his election, an invitation from the civil authorities in both jurisdictions is seen as a prerequisite for the Vatican. Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Paddy Burke, confirmed to The Irish Catholic that if the invite is issued, it will be at the highest level. “If Pope Francis comes it will be an official state visit.

“It would be really wonderful if he came and I think the people of Ireland would respond unbelievably well to it. He’s a very open an approachable head of state and I think his message really resonates with ordinary people,” the Fine Gael senator said.

Fianna Fáil’s senator Jim Walsh said a papal visit “would be a fantastic occasion which I think would be welcomed by the vast majority of the Irish population.

“Pope Francis is a person respected by people of all faiths and none around the world and I think his principles and convictions resonate with the Irish people. It would be fantastic to welcome him here if he decides to accept,” Mr Walsh said.

Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan told The Irish Catholic that he is hopeful the Pope would accept an invitation to pay a State visit to Ireland.

“We don’t have an exact timeframe on when this might happen but we are very hopeful that it will become a reality.

“The Holy Father is aware of it, so it’s up the Vatican now. It would be a huge boost to the country, not just for Catholicism but for society on the whole,” Mr Coghlan said.

Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin told this newspaper “a visit by the head of the Catholic Church is more than a visit by a head of state”.

“It is an honour for the many faithful and an acknowledgement that their daily and weekly deeds of devotion and faithfulness is worth something,” she said