Massive expectation surrounding Papal visit

The visit to Ireland by Pope Francis next weekend will be a massive event at every level, with up to 500,000 people expected to attend the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families at the Phoenix Park in Dublin.

It will be an occasion of the utmost importance for all Irish Catholics and it was always essential that the organisers should also extend the hand of friendship to the other main denominations.

The announcement that the Presbyterian moderator Dr Charles McMullen has accepted his invitation deserved to be particularly welcomed.

Presbyterian and Catholics have clear theological differences, but the presence of Dr McMullen will strongly promote respect and reconciliation on all sides.

While there will be considerable regret that the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said yesterday she would be unable to be travel to Dublin, it is encouraging that other unionist representatives have already confirmed their involvement.

Indications are growing that the Pope will also meet victims of clerical sex abuse at some stage in his itinerary, which would be another entirely appropriate step.

The one huge disappointment in the programme is the absence of an engagement in Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital, Armagh.

It will be widely understood that Pope Francis is operating under a very tight schedule, but even a short cross-border trip would have been of major symbolic significance.

Although there have been suggestions that he might return to Ireland at a later date, this could put undue strain on a pontiff who will be 82 later this year.

Whatever happens, the Pope’s message to the people of Ireland, north and south, will be eagerly awaited.

He is also assured of an enthusiastic and emotional reception throughout his historic appearances in Dublin and the Knock Shrine in Co Mayo.