The prospect of a papal trip to the North still hangs in the balance, according to Archbishop Eamon Martin, who says efforts continue to encourage Pope Francis to cross the border if he comes to Dublin next year.
Widely expected to visit Ireland next August in connection with the World Meeting of Families, the Pope confirmed to then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny last November that he hoped to make a short visit in connection with the international gathering. If the Pontiff wished to visit the North while in Ireland, Mr Kenny said, the Government would do what it could to facilitate this.
“Pope Francis hasn’t said yes but he hasn’t said no, so we are continuing to encourage him,” Dr Martin told The Irish News, adding, “I’m continuing to send the message that I think that it would be a very significant moment for Northern Ireland.”
Security fears prevented St John Paul II from crossing the border when he visited Ireland in 1979, causing him to describe the trip as “unfinished”, and Italian media have raised questions about whether the time is right for Pope Francis to complete his predecessor’s visit.
La Stampa has cited the backdrop of instability caused by Brexit, the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive, and the prospect of the British government being dependent on the DUP’s support as grounds for concern in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
Although Dr Martin conceded that the North is “struggling at the moment with the whole peace thing, even though we are held up as a beacon for reconciliation all around the world”, a papal visit would still be of value, he said, especially if a prominent member of the royal family were also to visit.
Claiming this would send a “hugely symbolic and significant message”, he said “it would be a real affirmation of all we have been trying to do here”.
The leaders of other Northern Churches have given the archbishop the impression they would welcome such a papal visit, “as far as it would be appropriate to do so”, he said, adding that with the Pope’s schedule only being worked out a few months ahead of time, he remains “hopeful” that Pope Francis will visit.