BY EDWARD PENTIN
IRISH BISHOPS have denied that the Pope has agreed to visit their country for a second time.
Bishop Michael Smith of Meath, who heads a subcommittee of bishops in charge of organising celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s first visit to Ireland, said any confirmation of a papal trip would come “closer to the time”. He said: “As far as I’m aware, no decisions has been taken”.
However, the news that John Paul will not now be attending the 48th International Eucharistic Congress in Mexico, due to be held in October, has made the possibility of a shorter visit to Ireland “more likely”, said Bishop Smith.
This September or next Spring are said to be the most probable times for any trip, though Bishop Smith also emphasised that “no decisions” had been agreed on any dates.
No Vatican official was willing to comment on the plans of the Pope, who is on a 12-day holiday in northern Italy.
Also, contrary to earlier reports, there has been no confirmation that an invitation for the Pope to visit Ireland was presented to the Vatican by Archbishop Darmuid Martin of Dublin. The prelate was in Rome last month to receive his pallium. “Any talk of a visit is purely speculative,” said Fr Martin Clarke, communications director of the Dublin archdiocese. “I think it’s a case of journalists adding two plus two and getting five.” The Pope last visited Ireland in 1979 when he became the first Pontiff to ever set foot in the country.
A second visit would be as momentous, with speculation of a first papal trip to Northern Ireland and John Paul’s long held wish to celebrate Mass in the Province. Armagh is considered to be the probable destination.
But any decision on the Pope visiting Northern Ireland would depend on the permission of the British Government, which would have to mount a massive security operation to protect him.
It would also depend on the Pope’s health.
In 1979, John Paul was unable to visit the north due to security fears caused by sectarian violence. Instead he stayed at Drogheda, one of the nearest towns to the border.
“The Pope has expressed many times during his pontificate a willingness to complete that visit,” said Bishop Smith.
In Drogheda, John Paul made an impassioned plea for an end to sectarian hatred and murders. They were words which “had a strong resonance with the people”, said Bishop Smith.
“I think what he said took a while to sink in, for people to realise the importance of upholding what was right,” the bishop said, believing they were words “he would rather have said in Northern Ireland”.
Any papal trip to Ireland is likely to be fleeting. Slightly less busy than his recent trip to Switzerland, the Pope would probably preside over no more than one ceremony during a visit that would probably last one day, possibly with an overnight stay.