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Free Presbyterian minister criticises Protestant church leaders who invited Pope to visit Northern Ireland

Rev John Gray, who ministers in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, claimed `as many Roman Catholics protesting against his coming than Protestants'

A FREE Presbyterian minister has accused Protestant church leaders of inviting "further divisions within our community" by urging Pope Francis to travel north during his visit to Ireland.

The Pontiff 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.

The heads of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, along with the president of the Irish Council Of Churches, highlighted the positive impact the pontiff's visit would have on "promoting the cause of peace and reconciliation" across the island in a letter to the Vatican,

Rev John Gray, who ministers in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, however has demanded to know "how the Pope coming to Northern Ireland could help reconciliation in our country when he cannot even reconcile his own church".

He claimed "as many Roman Catholics protesting against his coming than Protestants", adding that the signatories "true aims (are)... unity with Mother (Catholic) Church."

"I am convinced without doubt that the Pope coming to Northern Ireland would bring further divisions within our community," the cleric said.

Rev Gray also referenced the row in his town over a memorial to the victims of the IRA Remembrance Day bombing, which was formally rejected by the St Michael's Diocesan Trust.

The Protestant church leaders however said they had nothing to add to what was said in the original letter.

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