Belfast Telegraph

First Minister Arlene Foster to meet Pope Francis if he visits Northern Ireland as head of state

DUP leader Arlene Foster would meet the Pope if he came to Northern Ireland in his capacity as head of state.

It comes after Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced a papal visit to the Republic for 2018 after a meeting with the Pope in the Vatican on Monday.

The visit will be the first since John Paul II's 1979 visit.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said it would be unthinkable the Pope would come to Ireland and not cross the border.

A spokesman for Arlene Foster later said: "Any potential visit to Northern Ireland by the Pope is a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

"Were the Pope to visit Northern Ireland in his capacity as Head of State then the First Minister would meet him.”

No such trip, however, has been scheduled.

More: Pope will visit Northern Ireland, says Martin McGuinness after 2018 papal trip to Republic confirmed

Earlier in welcoming the visit, the deputy First Minister said: "I think there is no prospect whatsoever of him coming to Ireland and him not coming to the North," he said.

There has been no confirmation of the Pope's itinerary as yet. When asked how why he was so sure the head of the church would cross the border, Mr McGuinness replied: "Because I'm around a long time and I know how these things work."

RTE reported Taoiseach Kenny held a 23-minute meeting with the Pontiff in which he confirmed the visit.

After arriving in the city state, Mr Kenny wasted no time in issuing a formal invitation to Pope Francis.

An invitation was extended to Francis by the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference to visit the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018.

The Irish Catholic reported Vatican sources saying the pope chose Ireland to host the conference in the hope he could make a visit.

It is understood the two men discussed a range of issues including migration during their meeting.

As they left the, Mr Kenny's wife Fionnuala said to the Pope: “Hopefully we’ll see you in Ireland”.

The Taoiseach presented leader of the Catholic Church with a print of a stained glass window by Harry Clarke.  In return, the Fine Gael leader received an etching of St Peter’s Basilica.

Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: "While the Vatican have yet to confirm the visit, should Pope Francis come to Ireland, as with any visitor to these shores, he would be most welcome.

"I am sure that many, many Roman Catholics both south and north of the border will be very excited and encouraged by the news that Pope Francis is likely to attend the 2018 gathering of the World Meeting of Families. If this materialises, I would hope that all other people on this island will want to join with our fellow citizens in welcoming the leader of their church to Ireland.

"Should any visit include an appropriate opportunity to travel north and visit Northern Ireland, I would trust that all in our community would take the opportunity to show due respect to such a visit. That will indeed be a sign that as a society we are continuing to develop into the kind of country that we all want Northern Ireland to be."

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