Bishop of Derry disappointed that pontiff won't be travelling north

Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown
Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown

THE Bishop of Derry last night spoke of his "private disappointment" that a planned Irish papal visit this August will not take in Northern Ireland.

Bishop Donal McKeown told the Irish News that the prospect of Pope Francis travelling north of the border was looking increasingly unlikely, and described it as a "great opportunity" lost.

"Clearly from the itinerary he is arriving on a Saturday morning and travelling back on a Sunday - with no plan to come north," he said.

"We're all publicly and privately disappointed given there's been two papal visits to Scotland, two in England, two in the Republic and yet he hasn't got to the north yet.

"I'm sure his advisers have their reasons but we've come a long distance in terms of peace and reconciliation. It would have been a great opportunity for us...Protestant leaders of the four main churches have also urged him to visit."

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 Ireland since 1979, when Pope John Paul II delivered a message of peace from Drogheda but did not travel north.

Reports last Friday suggested that apart from Dublin, the only other visit will include a flying trip to Knock.

Bishop McKeown, who travelled to Rome last year to meet the pontiff, described current inter-church relations in the north as "top class".

"It is beyond our control and my control why a papal visit north isn't happening," he added.

Earlier this month, in what was regarded as an unprecedented intervention, the heads of the four main Protestant churches wrote to the Vatican to highlight the "positive impact" of an all-Ireland visit.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern also said it would also be a missed opportunity if the pope did not travel over the border.

Fr Michael McGinnity, parish priest of St Malachy's Church, said it was very different from Pope John Paul ll's historic papal visit in 1979.

"It's a very different kind of visit. It's a pastoral visit."