Speculation of a potential papal visit to Ireland in 2018 is growing – and that could be good news for Armagh.
It has been announced that Dublin will host a high-profile Vatican event in three years with Ireland’s capital chosen as the venue for the next World Meeting of Families.
The BBC reports that since its inception in 1994, there has only been one occasion when the pontiff did not attend the event.
The editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, Michael Kelly, told BBC Radio Ulster that he expected Pope Francis to attend the Dublin conference.
He said: “If you look back on these previous World Meetings of Families, there’s only been once when a pope hasn’t presided at them, and that was 2003 when [Pope] John Paul II was quite ill at the time.
“So, I think we’re in fairly solid ground to say that all being well – I mean OK the Pope is 78, he will be in his early 80s by the time 2018 comes around but he seems in fairly robust health – so I think we can certainly say all being well, he will be here.”
If the visit does go ahead, it will be the second papal visit with Pope John Paul II visiting in 1979.
What does this mean for Armagh?
Last year (May, 2014), Armagh I reported that following a proposal from Sinn Féin Councillor Darren McNally, Armagh Council would extend an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the city.
Speaking at the time, cllr Darren McNally said: “I’m happy that the invite will be extended to Pope Francis. Religion plays an important role in many people’s lives and it has played a great historical role in the development of the city of Armagh.
“Pope Francis is admired by many and since his papacy began he has shown himself to be a man of humility. He has chosen not to live in the Apostolic Palace in Rome but instead to reside in simpler apartments and his vestments are free from excess.
“I think these qualities are to be admired and I think that this invitation from our council demonstrates that Armagh is a shared city, welcoming to all.”
In a statement, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, welcomed the announcement regarding the conference in Dublin.
“I am delighted to hear that Pope Francis has announced that the 9th World Meeting of Families will take place in Dublin, and that Archbishop [of Dublin] Diarmuid Martin is in Philadelphia with our delegation to hear the news directly from the Holy Father,” Archbishop Martin said.
“Three years ago the 50th International Eucharistic Congress was a great celebration of faith for Ireland, and it attracted pilgrims from all around the world. I am confident that the World Meeting of Families in 2018 will also be an uplifting event for all of us.”
SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon has said that a visit to Armagh by Pope Francis must surely be included on any Papal visit to Ireland.
Councillor O’Hanlon said: “The prospect of a papal visit to Ireland seems increasingly likely following confirmation that Dublin and Ireland will host the churches World Meeting of Families in 2018 and surely any papal visit has to include the historic city of Armagh. I know he would be welcomed with open arms and hope that it will happen.
“Pope Francis has brought a new life to the church across the world. Whilst he leads over a billion Catholics, he comes across as a deeply humble, simple and very ordinary man. He has brought a message of compassion, care and humility to everything he does and he challenges governments and world leaders to do the exact same.
“As well as the religious benefits of such a visit, the potential economic benefits to Ireland and Armagh would be tremendous, as tens of thousands would follow Pope Francis and attend the various religious ceremonies.
“Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin and his fellow Bishops have already extended an invitation to the Holy Father to visit Ireland.
“This week Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said that Pope Francis is determined to visit Ireland so the Church’s protocol has been followed.
“It is expected that any visit could be confirmed within weeks following a meeting of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.
“Should a visit be confirmed I belive that the council should proactively engage with the Church authorities here as a matter of urgency to ensure we get planning for a visit to Armagh.”