AN unconfirmed itinerary ahead of the Pope's visit to Ireland in August appears to rule out a visit to Northern Ireland.
Despite many northern Catholics still hoping that a cross-border trip could be added to the plans, reports yesterday appeared to dash those hopes.
As part of the visit over the weekend of August 25/26, to coincide with the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Pope Francis is expected to make a flying visit to Knock in Co Mayo.
The Irish Daily Mail quoted a source as saying a helicopter will take the pontiff between Dublin and the Marian Shrine.
"There was always going to be a visit to Knock but the logistics of travelling had to be made.
"Helicopter was decided upon as an efficient and safe way for the Pope to travel."
The itinerary, which has not yet been confirmed, also reveals plans for the Pope to meet President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
However, while the visit to Ireland has been widely welcomed, Catholics in Northern Ireland look set to be left with no option than making the journey south if they want to see the pontiff.
Speaking to The Irish News last night, Fr Michael McGinnity, delegate to the World Meeting of Families for the Down & Connor Diocese, said there would be "disappointment" among people who were "still holding out a little bit of hope, especially in light of the other church leaders expressing their interest and hope that he would come north".
"After the announcement was made he was coming to Ireland, he made it very clear to the organisers that anything he did in Ireland would be for the World Meeting of Families event. He has held to that and that has been his stance from the word go.
"He didn't want anything to distract from the World Meeting of Families. Clearly, he feels that the visit to Knock is closely linked and he has include that in the itinerary for that reason."
The parish priest of St Malachy's Church in Belfast said unlike Pope John Paul II's visit to Ireland in 1979, "this is not a papal visit".
"This is Pope Francis coming to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.
"It's a very different kind of visit. It's a pastoral visit."
Reported Papal Itinerary:
Saturday August 25
Pope arrives at Dublin Airport
Motorcade through Dublin
Visit to Áras an Uachtaráin to meet President
Civis reception at Dublin Castle hosted by Taoiseach
Visit to Pro-Cathedral
Visit to Capuchin Day Centre
Attend Croke Park for World Meeting of Families
Overnight at Papal Nunciature, Navan Road
Sunday, August 26
Helicopter to Knock
Mass at Knock Basilica
Pontifical Mass in Phoenix Park
Flies home from Dublin Airport