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Would be fitting for Pope Francis to visit Northern Ireland

The announcement by Pope Francis that he will visit Ireland in August confirms his much anticipated attendance at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, and comes 39 years after John Paul II's historic trip to the Republic.

At that time there was intense disappointment that the pope did not travel to Northern Ireland and hopes were high that this visit by Pope Francis would include both sides of the border, allowing him to complete the journey, as many would see it, begun by Pope John Paul.

Unfortunately, the statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference warmly welcoming the pope's announcement in Rome yesterday, did not mention a possible visit north.

What we have been told is that Pope Francis will arrive in Dublin on Saturday August 25 where he will take part in the Festival of Families, a faith-based cultural concert, in Croke Park.

The following day he will celebrate Mass in Phoenix Park, which is expected to draw huge numbers and which will bring the world meeting to a close.

Full details of the papal schedule will be released at a later date so it is not clear if the pope will attend any events outside Dublin or who he will meet during his stay.

There is no doubt this visit by Pope Francis, who has made a considerable impact on the world stage, will be greatly appreciated by many Catholics throughout Ireland.

They will also recognise that the country has undergone significant changes since 1979 when nearly three million people turned out to see the recently elected Polish pope.

Since then the authority of the Church has declined along with Mass attendances and vocations to the priesthood.

The clerical abuse scandal has caused immense damage and continues to do so, as we have seen in recent weeks, and there is an expectation the pope will address this issue directly during his visit.




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