Northern Ireland news

Bishop of Derry: Still time for Pope Francis to 'reconsider decision' not to travel north

Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, has suggested that there could be further lobbying of the Vatican in an attempt to get the north included in the schedule for the papal visit
John Monaghan

THE Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, has said there is still time for Pope Francis to "reconsider the decision" not to travel north of the border during a planned trip to Ireland in August.

Bishop McKeown also said that he believed he and his two fellow northern-based bishops, Noel Treanor and Archbishop Eamon Martin, would "make our voices heard through appropriate channels".

The head of the Catholic Church is due to visit Dublin over two days for the World Meeting of Families on August 25 and 26.

It will be the first papal visit to Irish soil since 1979, when Pope John Paul II delivered a message of peace from Drogheda but did not travel north.

Bishop McKeown said he had reflected on subsequent papal visits to various regions of Britain in 1982 and 2010, adding that: "It seems to me that Northern Ireland is the only part of these islands that, for whatever reason, is not visitable by a Pope."

"I do think people in the north have come through terrible times...I really think that there would be many people who would appreciate an opportunity to display just how far we have come and reflect on the past.

"It is very unfortunate that, for whatever reason - and I am not privy to those discussions - north of the border doesn't appear to be on the agenda for a Papal visit," Bishop McKeown told the BBC.

The senior cleric said there was "disappointment" among fellow bishops at the news, and suggested that there was still the opportunity for further lobbying.

"I think we would want to take the feelings of the big congregations that we still have here in the north, make those heard in the Vatican. We are still five months reconsider the decision and have a short visit to the north," he said.

"It would have been much better if hopes and expectations hadn't been raised and then dashed."

Several other main churches in the north, including the Presbyterian Church and Church of Ireland, have said they would welcome a visit by Pope Francis.

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