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Primate hints at return visit by Pope Francis – to Northern Ireland

By Susan Gately - 18 August, 2018

Archbishop Eamon Martin

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has expressed his hope that Pope Francis will visit Northern Ireland in the not too distant future.

“I really did push hard to try to encourage the Holy See that the Holy Father would make a visit north of the border,” Archbishop Eamon Martin told the BBC’s Mark Simpson. “I really feel that the time is right for it now, and I think Pope Francis would love to come,” he added.

However, looking at the Pope’s packed schedule for this visit, the Primate of all Ireland said he didn’t know “how the poor man is going to be able to do all of the things that we’re trying to squeeze in”.

“In some ways I now realise that a visit to Northern Ireland, particularly with our history and with all that we’ve been through, is going to require a dedicated time,” he added.

Although the Pope was not crossing the border on this occasion, Archbishop Martin hoped he would acknowledge Northern Ireland during his visit. “He might say something to us in our particular situation here in Northern Ireland about our peace and what we have done, and maybe affirm us in the progress we have made.”

Speaking from Armagh on Thursday, Archbishop Martin said he believed the Pope would try to express the “grave sorrow” of the Church in relation to the abuse of children by priests. “But I think people want more than that,” he added. “He will want to express the Church’s commitment to ensure that if a member of your family is involved in any activity of the Church they are as safe there as they would be in your own home.”

The Primate said he hoped the Pope would meet with survivors of abuse. “I’m not sure what his words will be and I’m not sure that a simple apology is what survivors of abuse want. They themselves are on record in recent days as saying they want action. They say they want to know that the Church accepts that abuse within the Church was systemic, that it was facilitated and that this will happen no more.”

“If he expresses an apology, it needs to be more than ‘we’re sorry’,” added the Archbishop.

The Church needed to be able to demonstrate that “we’re committed to the safety and well-being of children and young people and vulnerable adults, and anyone else who comes within our Church’s activities”, he said.

Meanwhile, for the first time ever, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church will meet the Pope on Irish soil. Dr Charles McMullen will join other religious and civic leaders in Dublin Castle on August 25 for a reception set to be attended by Pope Francis and Taioseach Leo Varadkar. Archbishop Eamon Martin will introduce the Moderator and other church leaders to the Pope.

The Presbyterian Clerk, Rev Trevor Gribben, said there was a broad consensus to welcome the Pope. “We live daily in communities where Presbyterians, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Catholic folk mix. Our church buildings sit beside each other. Relationships have to happen in Ireland because we’re here on this island together. And I’m glad that our church is in the position to accept the invitation that has been graciously offered to us,” he told the BBC.

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