Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland voices have their say on Pope visit - ‘A watershed moment for the Church and it should be celebrated’


Fr Eugene O'Hagan
Fr Eugene O'Hagan
Professor Deirdre Heenan
Paul Clark

Broadcasters, celebrities and clergy have their say about what this papal visit means to them. Interviews by Gillian Halliday.


Catholic priest and classical singer

This is an opportunity we may not get for another 40 years. People have high expectations and I think he's aware of that and he'll do his best. He's here to celebrate family and all that means. I hope it will rejuvenate the Church and give encouragement.

I think among many Catholics and non-Catholics there is an admiration for the Holy Father, and his visit will leave a mark on the minds of people, not only people here, but those who are travelling from across the world for the occasion.

I will be performing at the World Meeting of Families concert tonight (as part of singing trio The Priests) and it will be a very special moment for us.


University of Ulster academic

I'm going to Dublin Castle to hear the papal address. I was in Drogheda for the first Pope visit with my family and it was an occasion of euphoria and joy, something that I can still remember vividly. Given what has happened to the Church I would say that the hope is that Pope Francis is a very different type of Pope. He's a very humble man, he has that common touch, and is associated with compassion and social justice. The hope then is that he will acknowledge what has happened but also try and bring some reconciliation and unity to the Church.


journalist and presenter

I was a very junior reporter in 1979 when Pope John Paul II came. I will never forget that occasion, I was working for BBC radio at the time. I was at Drogheda, and honestly, I was slightly disappointed. I had watched the Pope's visit to Auschwitz, which was very emotional, but I put it down to working rather than being there as an observer. When I watched Pope John's Sunday morning Mass on television I cried when he said: "Young people of Ireland, I love you." This is a big weekend for Catholics, for the Catholic Church. I'm a man of faith, my background's Catholic.

There will be an outpouring of faith, an outpouring of emotion. It's too early to know what the impact will be for this papal visit. The legacy will be interlinked with what Pope Francis says and what he does.


SDLP leader

Pope Francis' time as leader of the Catholic Church has been characterised by compassion and an unyielding dedication to challenging poverty, exclusion and injustice; a message and mission particularly pertinent in our society today. It is my hope that his visit to Ireland reignites a spirit of reconciliation absent from our politics in recent times.

Most importantly, I hope Pope Francis has the opportunity to meet with and deliver a sincere apology to all those victims whose lives were tormented as result of abuse and its subsequent cover-up by the Church.


GAA personality

I believe that the visit by Pope Francis could help to determine the direction that the Catholic Church in Ireland will take over the course of the next decade at least. I know that for many this will be a very special occasion, and I honestly think that the event could prove a positive step in bolstering the image of the Church.

I think the Pope has taken positive steps of late to address vital issues and his visit, while helping to highlight the fact that the faith is still strong in this country, will also see a spotlight turned on the huge challenges that the Church nonetheless faces.


Catholic priest and broadcaster

The theme of the Pope's visit is families and I hope that it will give a great deal of encouragement to families. The word 'family' and what it means has changed dramatically and I hope the Church does not impose a definition.

I don't think people would be quiet if the Pope left without addressing the abuse and victims. I do think people are delighted to see a 'real' Pope, one living in the world. Pope Francis is one of the few leaders in the world people actually listen to.

I hope the visit encourages people to live a better life.


Former South Down MP

It's a very positive development, Pope Francis has proven to be a very humanitarian person. My only regret is that Pope Francis is not coming to the north, to visit our seat of ecclesiastical learning in Downpatrick. Another regret is that I won't be able to go to Dublin to see him, but I will be watching on television.

As someone who is a practising Catholic I cherish that opportunity for the people of Ireland to have the Pope visiting in the context of the World Meeting of Families.

I know there's a lot of issues surrounding it and the Pope must address them, and people must get definitive answers, but the very fact the Holy Father is coming is a very welcome development.

I hope the visit enriches the Church and the people.


Country singer

I never thought when I recorded the song God's Plan some years ago that I would get the chance to perform it live for the Pope and an audience of 500,000 people. It will be a memorable yet humbling experience. This will be a hugely important occasion for many as well as being an event that could provide a new focus on the role of the Church in the Ireland of today.


Media commentator

I hope it will be a watershed moment. A papal visit to Ireland is very rare. I was at the parish centre yesterday and people were buzzing; there was bunting and flags and talk of arranging how to get down. I've been listening to podcasts the last couple of days in Dublin about the build-up to the visit. Ireland is emerging from a dark shadow and I think it will give church-going people a boost. This is a chance for them to celebrate. I've put up a papal flag for the first time at my house.


U105 and UTV presenter

I was a teenager when Pope John Paul II visited. I was there and one of my memories is that one of the youngsters with us got lost and we spent most of the time looking for him. My interest in this papal visit is great - it's fabulous to see a world religious leader here who will, and should, have a warm welcome extended. I have many hard questions, as a Mass-going Catholic, that I would ask Pope Francis if I had the opportunity to speak to him, but I'm delighted he's here.

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