Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Donaldson appears to welcome possible Pope visit to Northern Ireland: I don't think the Protestant community reaction would be negative

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has appeared to welcome Pope Francis' possible visit to Northern Ireland next year.

It was confirmed last November that Pope Francis would visit the Republic in August 2018 as part of the World Meeting of Families, which will be held in Dublin between August 22 and 26.

This will the first visit to Ireland by a sitting Pope since John Paul II in 1979.

It has not yet been confirmed if Pope Francis will cross the border during his visit, but last year former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he expected he would.

In an interview with the Irish Catholic, the senior DUP figure said he hoped a visit from the pontiff would address the "moral issues of today".

"I’m looking forward to what Pope Francis has to say about those because I think that the debate has become very secular," he said.

The statement comes as the clearest indication yet the DUP could welcome a visit by Pope Francis to Northern Ireland.

Last year DUP leader and then First Minister Arlene Foster said she would meet the Pope if he were to visit Northern Ireland in his capacity as head of state.

The apparent softening on the prospect of a papal visit is a move away from the views of party founder Ian Paisley.

During a 1988 address of the European Parliament by John Paul II, Rev Paisley infamously heckled the Pontiff and unfurled a poster declaring him to be the anti-Christ.

On the reaction from the Protestant community, Sir Donaldson said: "If Pope Francis decides to visit Northern Ireland as part of his visit to the island, I don’t think there will be a negative reaction from the Protestant community. There is a recognition that Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church that a very substantial portion of our population adheres to the Catholic Church."

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