Armagh public park would be ‘best fit' for Pope to say Mass, mayor says

Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced Pope Francis would visit Ireland in 2018
John Monaghan

A PUBLIC park in Armagh would be the "best fit" for hosting an open air Mass celebrated by the Pope if he visits in 2018, the city's mayor has said.

Sinn Féin councillor Gareth Keating, the Mayor of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, told The Irish News he believes the grounds of the council-run Palace Demesne would be the natural choice for the Pope to celebrate Mass.

The Palace Demesne, the former home of the Archbishop of the Church of Ireland until the 1970s, is currently the site of a large public park and council offices, within walking distance of the centre of Armagh.

On Monday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed a long-awaited papal trip to Ireland for 2018 after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican.

It is widely expected that the pontiff will visit Ireland's ecclesiastical capital - completing the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II - and visit the city's Catholic and Anglican cathedrals and hold an open-air Mass.

Mr Keating said: "As a council, members are asking officers what council can do to put ourselves on a footing for a visit and that we should be doing all we can.

"I think there would be a willingness from council to accommodate such an event and Armagh is a natural choice, as the ecclesiastical centre and with the symbolism of the North-South Ministerial Council here.

"I imagine that there would be an invite-only event at the Cathedral and then a large open air gathering.

"The Palace would be ideal because of where it is. You would get a quare few thousand in there."

He added: "There is also the Navan Fort site, the college fields on Moy Road, Gosfort Forest Park on Newry Road, these are all places where you could accommodate a crowd of 20,000."

The mayor has also offered to personally step in should the Popemobile not be available for any trip to the Orchard County.

"I would give him a lift round in my Nissan Micra," said Mr Keating.

Meanwhile, in west Belfast, there was hope that the head of the Catholic Church would include a visit to Clonard Monastery and the area's peace walls in his itinerary.

Ed Petersen, a member of the Clonard Peace and Reconciliation Mission, said that he was aware there was a long list of parishes and groups hoping for a visit from the Pope.

The Peace and Reconciliation Mission, born from the work of renowned Clonard priests Fr Alec Reid and Fr Gerry Reynolds, has promoted various outreach initiatives with Protestant churches and other faiths.

Mr Petersen said: "It would be a real privilege and blessing for us to share some of the work that has gone on and what we are involved with currently, and to show him some of our inter-faith work.

"During the Novena, the rector Fr Noel Kehoe put out a general invite via the Papal Nuncio, at the youth Mass at which he presided, for the Pope to come to Clonard.

"The fact that so many people have their own parish life but also have a connection with Clonard (via the Novena) would be a real opportunity for Pope Francis to see many of the faithful."

However, a senior source in the Irish Church said that it was impossible to predict the itinerary of a visit by an "unconventional" Pope who has "torn up the rule book".

"Of course it's a possibility that he would go to Armagh, but he might say 'bring me to a soup kitchen, or even a prison.'

"He's unconventional, and is as likely to want to go to Maghaberry jail to wash the feet of prisoners as he is to stick to what many might expect of a traditional Papal visit to a country."

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