Pope urged to give backing to mixed marriages on visit to Ireland
The Pope is to be asked to give his blessing to mixed marriages during his prospective visit to Ireland.
The request is being formulated by the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association (NIMMA) in advance of the pontiff's visit here in 2018.
Association chairman Ken Dunn has revealed that he will be writing to the Vatican soon.
It is expected that Pope Francis will cross the border during the trip to visit Ireland's ecclesiastical capital of Armagh.
The NIMMA chairman says he hopes that "his Holiness will allow (the association) to share in the joy of the Irish visit granting us some role in its content".
Mr Dunn says he is making the written request even though mixed marriage "within fairly recent memory (has been) the bugbear of Roman Catholicism".
However, he says his letter to the Pope will explain "who we are, what we do and how we feel that mixed marriage… has much to offer in the long journey to a truly ecumenical future".
Writing in the association's monthly bulletin, he states: "NIMMA has been to the fore in the field of reconciliation for more than 40 years and a champion of Christian marriage in an increasingly secular society for just as long.
"I feel that a NIMMA contribution to the visit should be welcomed and encouraged."
He says that the hearts of Christians everywhere are "deeply appreciative that his Holiness is guiding the worldwide Church with a breath of new life and he is guaranteed Cead Mile Failte, and even more, if he visits the ecclesiastical capital of the island at Armagh".
He says: "It is particularly fitting that the proposed visit coincides with the World Meeting of Families in Dublin at that time and I will be explaining that NIMMA has spent more than 40 years providing pastoral care for couples and families throughout this island."
But he pointedly adds: "NIMMA also challenges the secularisation of marriage and has been a close companion of all the major denominations in their pilgrimage of peace, ecumenism and mutual understanding over more than four decades.
"We will certainly be asking for changes to attitudes to mixed marriage in the name of reconciliation and community relations and I would hope that his Holiness will allow us to share in the joy of the Irish visit by granting us some small role in its content.
"This is a unique opportunity for Christians to come together in the true spirit of ecumenism and we must all play our parts to the full."
Mr Dunn says a papal visit in 2018 would be "a historic time for Christians on this island and particularly in Northern Ireland where Pope Francis looks set to be greeted enthusiastically by many. None more so, I am sure, than by NIMMA".
He underpins that statement by explaining that NIMMA provides country-wide support and information to couples either in or contemplating mixed marriage, as well lobbying for tolerance and acceptance of mixed marriage.
He writes: "We are desperately keen to contribute to that warm welcome to the pontiff in any way we can.
"We recognise that Pope Francis is in a unique position to foster goodwill and reconciliation on this island and feel strongly that we should at least try to have some kind of input to the visit.
"To that end, I will be writing to Pope Francis within the next few weeks to explain who we are, what we do and how we feel that mixed marriage... has much to offer in the long journey to a truly ecumenical future."
A recent survey reckoned that around 20% of marriages in Northern Ireland are now 'mixed' between Protestants and Catholics.
And a Queen's University study found that opposition to mixed marriages from both Catholics and Protestants is diminishing, with the number of Protestants opposing them dropping to an all-time low of around 16%.