Protestant church leaders urge Pope Francis to come north
THE leaders of Ireland's Protestant churches have written to Pope Francis urging him to come north during his planned visit to Ireland in August.
In what is regarded as an unprecedented intervention, the heads of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, along with the president of the Irish Council Of Churches, have highlighted the positive impact the pontiff's visit would have on "promoting the cause of peace and reconciliation" across the island.
The content of the church leaders' letter to the Vatican, which was revealed in the latest edition of The Irish Catholic, comes as former taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the same newspaper that it would be missed opportunity if the pope did not travel over the border.
Pope Francis will visit Dublin in August for the World Meeting of Families – the first papal visit to Ireland since 1979.
On that occasion Pope John Paul II was unable to travel north due to the Troubles.
There is understood to be widespread support among the Irish Catholic hierarchy for the papal visit to include Northern Ireland.
Last month, Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown voiced hope that the Vatican would reconsider including the north in the pope's visit.
In their letter to the pontiff sent in December last year, Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke, Presbyterian Moderator Dr Noble McNeely, Methodist President Dr Lawrence Graham, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches Bishop John McDowell, write about the prospect of Pope Francis visiting Ireland and how his additional engagements may include a trip to Northern Ireland.
"We know that members of the Catholic Church, both north and south of the border, will be greatly encouraged if these visits were to come about," the letter states.
"The potential that a visit to Northern Ireland could have in promoting peace and reconciliation throughout the island cannot be underestimated."
Another of Ireland's foremost Protestant churchmen has added his voice to growing chorus of support for the pope to travel north.
Dr Harold Good, former president of the Methodist Church and a witness to IRA decommissioning, told The Irish Catholic that he was disappointed that the north had so far been excluded from August's papal visit and said that he would "encourage a rethink".
"I feel it is an opportunity missed – an opportunity for us all to be seen to share the joy of our Roman Catholic friends and neighbours for whom such a visit would be hugely encouraging and affirming," he said.
Rev Good said that "given the very clear expressions of disappointment and the assurance of an unprecedented welcome from across the community", he hoped the Vatican authorities would reconsider the pope's itinerary.
"All of us have busy diaries that we must be prepared to readjust as changed and changing circumstances dictate," he said.
Former Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern voiced hope that the Pope Francis would cross the border.
"From what I've heard the programme isn't yet completed, so it'd be certainly be nice," he said.
There was no comment from the Catholic Church in Ireland though it is understood that news of the Protestant church leaders' letter was received positively.