Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin has said he is continuing to press for a Papal visit to Northern Ireland, even if Pope Francis cannot come here in August.
During a wide-ranging interview at his residence in Armagh, the church leader voiced disappointment that it looks unlikely the Pope will be travelling north of the border "on this occasion".
Archbishop Martin said: "My fellow bishops and I worked hard to make the case for a visit, but the situation is completely different to 1979 when Pope John Paul II made a national visit to Ireland.
"However I'm keeping my hopes up because the conditions are right for a Papal visit to Northern Ireland to help him make a contribution to the peace we have here and which we hold in such a fragile manner.
"During the meeting in Dublin I would like to think there will be an opportunity for some gesture or words from Pope Francis to speak about our situation.
"I had hoped there might be a last-minute change of heart about coming up here and encouraging it, but I have not been given any indication that it will happen.
"However, this does not stop me from trying to make the point. I will continue to advocate a Papal visit to Northern Ireland, if not now then as soon as possible.
"I'm encouraged that the other main churches have supported the idea for a visit to the north, and that was a new step for them.
"There is a sense in Northern Ireland that the Pope would be welcomed and that is a great message for him to get."
Archbishop Martin said the Papal visit had already generated huge excitement.
He said: "This is one of the three universal meetings of the Catholic Church every four years, and the bookings for the Dublin meeting from families and young people overseas are greater than those for previous similar meetings in Philadelphia and Milan.
"We hope this will be matched by the attendance from Ireland and elsewhere."
Turning to the issue of child sex abuse, Archbishop Martin said that the recent revelations surrounding Father Malachy Finnegan at St Colman's College in Newry served as a reminder of an issue that "remains with us all the time".
He said: "Having met victims and survivors of abuse, I know that they never draw a line under their trauma.
"The Church or any other institution has no right to try to put it behind us.
"We must never be complacent about creating the most safe environment possible for the young and the vulnerable, and for everyone."
He said that when the abuse takes place in Church premises, it is "doubly shocking".
"There is the trauma of the victims, the impact on the faithful members who are horrified, the impact on the good priests and the effect on the Church leaders and people. The abuse destroys everything it touches. This is something which I live with personally every single day and I believe that the dark shadow of abuse will extend for the rest of my priesthood.
"This is not something we can leave behind us by simply saying: 'Let it go now'.
"We are now modelling the best-known practices to keep young and vulnerable people safe, and we are handing over these matters to the proper authorities rather than dealing with them ourselves.
"For a long time the abuse was a taboo subject for fear of the scandal becoming public, but by wrongfully trying to prevent it getting out, people created another scandal in the longer term."
Another major concern for the Archbishop is the May 25 referendum in the Republic on the repeal of the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution, which recognises the right to life of both the mother and the unborn child, effectively banning terminations. If repealed, the Dublin Government will proceed with legislation to allow, in the first instance, terminations up to 12 weeks which will make abortion in the Republic available.
The Archbishop said: "Those who are voting can be in no doubt that this is not just the removal of an amendment in order to be compassionate in hard cases, such as rape, incest or life-threatening situations.
"This is the removal of the only remaining protection for unborn life in order to introduce a very liberal abortion regime which, I believe, the people of Ireland do not want.
"The Supreme Court has told us that once you remove the eighth amendment, there is no recognition at all for the rights of the unborn.
"Once that is gone, I find it difficult to believe that we would not move to probably becoming one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world.
"Once we elevate personal choice above the right to life, where do we stand?
"If we enshrine in our laws the right to choose to end life, where does that place us? I see this not as a Church versus State battle, but as an opportunity to highlight that we must choose life and not death."
Archbishop Martin said that abortion was "not a matter of private choice but of the common good". "Society can never tolerate the direct and intentional taking of innocent human life, and I am conscious that many of my brothers and sisters in other Christian denominations and in other faiths hold a similar view."
He also stated his belief that the outcome of the referendum was not a foregone conclusion and that many people are still undecided.
"I would like to think that when people go in to vote that they will pause, listen to their heartbeat, look at the fingerprints, and realise they have had these since they themselves were in the womb.
"I would love them to think of two lives as they make their decision."
Archbishop Martin said he was "saddened" by the claim from Free Presbyterian minister the Reverend Peter McIntyre that attending Catholic Mass "brings shame to the Gospel". He said "I don't give it too much credence because it's not my experience of meeting with people from other denominations."
Instead he sees evidence of changing attitudes north and south towards a possible "new Ireland".
"We have made a lot of progress, though there are people who would still drag us back to the time when all we did was to go into corners and eyeball each other while trading insults.
"I have experienced much more integration between north and south in recent times.
"For a long period, people from Cork would not have dreamt of spending their holidays near the Giant's Causeway, and Protestants from the north would not have gone to Galway or Dublin. They do that now.
"We have all become comfortable at crossing the border without being stopped or searched, or having to produce our ID.
"Our horizons have been widened, though some figures are still playing to the gallery. We should open up the borders and barriers we have in our minds and tell the world that Ireland is a good place in which to do business.
"The Good Friday Agreement states that people on all sides have a legitimate right to their aspirations, and we must condemn all violence and intimidation.
"Any new Ireland is something that we have to build together, and the reassurance for all people will come only by whatever process by which it is created."
Archbishop Martin was appointed coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh in January 2013, and succeeded Cardinal Sean Brady as Archbishop in September 2014.
He was first told of his appointment by the papal nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Charles Brown. "I knew that when a priest is invited to meet the papal nuncio something might be in the background.
"Before we met I thought it might have something to do with the appointment of a new bishop, but I was completely surprised when he told me that I was to be the coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh.
"This happened just before Pope Benedict resigned and I am probably one of the last Archbishops he appointed.
"By the time I was ordained, Pope Francis had been appointed and he has brought a wonderful new sense of mission to the Church. I chose as my motto a phrase from the Psalms 'Sing a new song unto the Lord' and part of my contribution is to find out what that new song is.
"Pope Francis has urged us to find a 'new key' so that the Church can continue its missionary role in a period of new evangelism.
"I find that inspiring and challenging. It's a great time to be a Church leader."
Earlier this year Mr Justice O'Hara, who had chaired a lengthy inquiry into the deaths of five children in Northern Ireland hospitals, called for the introduction of a duty of candour because doctors and health managers were unwilling to admit to errors.