Belfast Telegraph

Presbyterian Moderator set for historic meeting with Pope Francis

By Alf McCreary

The Presbyterian Moderator is in line to be the church's first leader to meet a Pope on Irish soil.

Dr Charles McMullen will join other religious and civic leaders in Dublin Castle on August 25 for a reception set to be attended by Pope Francis and Taioseach Leo Varadkar.

It is understood that the Catholic Primate of Ireland, Archbishop Eamonn Martin, will introduce the Moderator and other church leaders to the Pope.

Later on, Dr McMullen and his wife Barbara will attend a concert at Croke Park, at the invitation of Archbishop Martin.

Pope Francis will be the chief guest at the concert which will feature 2,000 performers, including singers Andrea Bocelli, Daniel O'Donnell, Nathan Carter, and the Riverdance act.

Northern Ireland will be represented by The Priests and world famous flautist Sir James Galway.

The Croke Park concert will end a busy week for the Presbyterian Moderator and his wife who will return to Belfast next Tuesday from an official church visit to Jordan.

Speaking from the Middle East yesterday, Dr McMullen said: "As a Church we recognised that this Papal visit would bring great joy to our Roman Catholic neighbours and friends, and it was something we wanted to welcome.

"I am pleased that our church has been able to accept the invitation to the reception and I am looking forward to it.

"Should there be an opportunity to meet Pope Francis I would very much welcome that in the context of building good relations."

The Presbyterian Clerk, Rev Trevor Gribben, told the Belfast Telegraph last night that there was a broad consensus to welcome the Pope.

"We are a large church and there will be people who believe sincerely that this would be a step too far, on theological grounds," he said.

"A small number of people on our General Council made this point, but did so graciously."

The Presbyterian Church did not send its Moderator to meet Pope John Paul II during his visit to the Republic in 1979, but the Assembly Clerk Dr Jack Weir personally attended a Papal reception in Dublin.

During the UK visit by Pope Benedict in 2010 the Moderator Dr Norman Hamilton attended an ecumenical service involving the Pope in Westminster Abbey, but did not attend a reception afterwards to meet him.

However, Presbyterian Secretary Dr Donald Watts met the Pope during his visit to Scotland during that tour.

Belfast Telegraph

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