Belfast Telegraph

Joint visit to Northern Ireland by Pope and Queen would be momentous, says archbishop

By Michelle Weir

A joint visit by the Pope and the Queen to Northern Ireland next year would be "wonderful", a senior cleric has said.

The Vatican is expected to make an official announcement early in the new year regarding a visit by Pope Francis to the Republic.

It is likely that any trip over the border will be made known within the next few weeks.

The possibility of the pontiff making an official visit here gathered pace yesterday when Archbishop Richard Clarke was responding to the suggestion in an interview with Q Radio that the leader of the Catholic Church could even be accompanied by the Queen.

The Church of Ireland Primate said that any joint visit would be "remarkable and wonderful".

He said: "The Church of Ireland bishops and archbishops made it very clear they would be very happy to see the Pope in Ireland, north or south.

"I suppose for them both to be seen together would be a momentous occasion, but it would not be the first time the Pope and Queen have met together."

The monarch had a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014.

Fr Tim Bartlett, one of the organisers of the World Meeting of Families, to be held in Dublin next August, said: "There is a very real possibility that Pope Francis will be joining us in August next year.

"I know he wants to be with us and we look forward to an announcement in January or February."

Officials say that the pontiff's schedule is never confirmed until a few months prior to any event.

The Irish Catholic reported Vatican sources as saying the Pope chose Ireland to host the conference in the hope he could make a visit. An invitation was extended to Pope Francis by the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference to visit the World Meeting of Families.

Last November former Taoiseach Enda Kenny held a private meeting at the Vatican with the Pope.

The last time there was a papal visit to Ireland was in 1979, when Pope John Paul II made the trip to the Republic, where there were events in Dublin, Drogheda, Clonmacnoise, Galway, Knock, Limerick and Maynooth.

Commenting on a joint visit, retired Free Presbyterian minister Rev David McIlveen said: "It is an interesting suggestion in that if he is coming as the leader of state and the Queen is coming as the leader of state, in terms of her position as Queen, then it is a political visit, but if she is coming as head of the Church of England and he is coming as the (head of the) Church of Rome, it would certainly be one of the most ecumenical presentations we have ever witnessed in Northern Ireland."

The DUP said: "Any potential visit to Northern Ireland by the Pope is a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

"The party leader previously indicated that she would respect his position as head of state."

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