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Pope Francis `disappointed' not to be visiting Northern Ireland

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, president of World Meeting Of Families 2018, speaks at a press conference at Maynooth University in Co Kildare outlining plans for Pope Francis' visit to Ireland this summer. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

POPE Francis may pay a stand-alone visit Northern Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said, after final confirmation came from the Vatican that the pontiff will not cross the border in August.

Details of the Pope's itinerary for the trip to the Republic were released by the Holy See yesterday and include a visit to Knock, Co Mayo.

He is visiting Ireland for the Catholic World Meeting of Families in Dublin's Croke Park and will also celebrate closing Mass of the gathering at Phoenix Park.

Asked if Pope Francis is disappointed at not visiting the north, the Archbishop of Dublin said: "Of course there is disappointment.

"We were hoping this was going to be the opportunity, but the pressure of this event has overtaken that."

Archbishop Martin, who is president of the World Meeting of Families 2018, added that the Pope has not ruled out the opportunity to visit the north on a separate trip.

It was confirmed yesterday that the pontiff will publicly recite the Angelus prayer at Knock's main Marian Shrine - the principle destination of Pope John Paul II when he paid the first papal visit to Ireland in 1979.

Pope Francis will arrive in Dublin on Saturday, August 25 at 10.30am where he will receive an official welcome before attending a welcome ceremony with President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin .

Afterwards, he will give a speech at Dublin Castle before visiting St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and a private visit to the Day Centre for Homeless Families of the Capuchin Fathers.

That evening he will speak at the Feast of Families in Croke Park Stadium.

The Catholic Communications Office said registrations for the events "are going extremely well" with almost 30,000 already registered.

Almost 6,000 of those already registered are 18 and under - also the largest of any previous meeting.

More than a quarter are couples aged from 29-40, while more than 11,000 of those registered are international - another record.

There are set to be 103 countries represented.

"People need to register soon... Organisers may have to close registration in advance of the event because of demand," a spokesman said.

"There are already 5,500 volunteers with one day volunteers still needed for the Mass in Phoenix Park."

The visit to Knock will be on Sunday, where he will circuit in the Popemobile and pray the Angelus that morning on the square in front of the shrine, before flying back to Dublin for a public Mass in Phoenix Park.

He will meet the bishops in the Convent of the Dominican Sisters, before flying back to Rome at 6.45pm.

Archbishop Martin said the Papal visit to Dublin "must not be just a once off event".

"It comes as the Church in Ireland struggles to find a new place in Irish society and culture - a very different one from the dominant one it held in the past," he said.

"Pope Francis is above all a free man. He shows us we can live in a world where faith seems marginal and yet manage to touch hearts and challenge them to reflect on and discern those fundamental values vital for society.

"What he does is to find ways in which he can win hearts for what the teaching of Jesus involves, not through imposing and judging, but through winning and attracting.

"...He looks on the World Meeting of Families as a gift that the Irish Church can then share with others."

Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said it is "a hugely important opportunity to showcase Ireland as images of this visit will be viewed around the globe".

The ninth World Meeting of Families takes place in Dublin from August 21-26. The majority of the 200 announced speakers are lay women (91) and men (65). with just 44 clergy/religious.

It is the first World Meeting of Families to have a specific workshop on `safeguarding'. Themes to be discussed include homelessness, addiction, domestic violence, displacement as migrants and refugees, disability and separation and divorce.

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