Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Church leaders welcome Pope's visit- should he come to Northern Ireland?

By Brett Campbell

Senior church leaders have welcomed Pope Francis' announcement that he will visit Ireland later this year - although he is unlikely to come north of the border.

The Pontiff confirmed yesterday that he will come to Dublin to participate in the final two days of the World Meeting of Families on August 25 and 26 - almost 40 years after the first papal visit to Ireland.

Former Methodist Church president, the Rev Harold Good, described the planned trip as an opportunity to further enhance relations between members of the Protestant and Catholic communities.

"I am very pleased for my Roman Catholic friends," he said.

"Pope Francis is a universally respected person, not just for his own views and ecumenical spirit but for his integrity and humble approach.

"This will be particularly good for relations within Northern Ireland and will give us the opportunity to share in our neighbours' joy."

The Methodist minister, who oversaw IRA decommissioning in 2005, recalled Pope John Paul II's call for peace during a Mass just a few miles from the border.

Over 300,000 attended the call to peace in Drogheda on September 29, 1979, where the only reigning Pontiff to have visited these shores urged politicians and terrorists to shun violence and assured Irish Protestants that no Pope poses any threat to them.

"Pope John Paul made the most impassioned plea to the people of Ireland to lay down their arms and cease killing - who can forget when he said, 'Nobody may ever call murder by any other name than murder'," Rev Good said.

"He uttered an appeal for all of us to return to the way of peace when we were in the most awful and brutal phase of our history. Thankfully we are now in a very different and much better place.

"This visit will lay to rest the prejudices and fears of the past."

Over 1.25 million people - almost one third of the population in the Republic at that time - turned out to a special open-air sermon which Pope John Paul II delivered at Phoenix Park.

Rev Good said he believes that Pope Francis will attract just as large a crowd despite serious controversies which have blighted the Catholic Church in recent years.

"Many people will be interested in what he has to say, particularly at this time," the clergyman said.

"I would hope this gives them encouragement and confidence to move beyond recent scandals - not to forget or minimise them, but to allow us all to be the people we are called to be."

Pope Francis will take part in a faith-based cultural concert, the Festival of Families, in Croke Park on the first day of his trip and will be the chief celebrant at a special Sunday Mass in Phoenix Park on the second day. There has been no mention of a visit to Northern Ireland.

His liturgy, expected to focus on the theme of the festival which is 'The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World', will conclude the ninth gathering of the festival, which will be supported by all 26 dioceses across the island.

The event will take place in the wake of a deeply divisive referendum on abortion in the Republic and could attract protests.

The General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Trevor Gribben, said he is certain that many people of differing theological and political views will want to "join our Catholic neighbours" in welcoming the long anticipated announcement.

"The attendance of Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families will greatly enhance the affirmation of the place of the family at the heart of society, and that is to be welcomed," he said.

Rev Gribben, who is also the Clerk of the General Assembly, said that many Catholics, both south and north of the border, have reason to be "excited and encouraged" by the visit.

Senior leaders within the Church of Ireland, including the Primate of All Ireland, have reiterated their previous welcome of the papal visit. The Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke previously said any joint visit would be "remarkable and wonderful" and that church bishops would be very happy to see the Pope in Ireland, north or south.

A joint statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference said they are "deeply honoured" that Pope Francis will participate in a universal Church celebration of faith and joy "which no doubt will be an occasion of spiritual renewal for our laity, religious and clergy, as well as a strengthening of Christian family life".

Belfast Telegraph

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