A papal visit to Ireland is looking increasingly more likely following comments by representatives of Archbishop Charles Brown in Dublin. Brown, an Irish American Notre Dame graduate is Papal Nuncio in Ireland.
The Archbishop has already held high-level discussions with senior government officials to explore a potential visit.
Archbishop Brown met senior politicians in Leinster House, Ireland's parliament building, last week including Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore. It follows a decision by the Seanad (Senate) to invite the pontiff to Ireland.
The Irish Catholic newspaper reported that the visit is being given “serious consideration” and is described as a realistic prospect.
In a further development, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said that he would be open to meeting with Pope Francis if the pontiff was to visit Belfast.Robinson's announcement comes just days after Martin McGuinness's decision to meet the Queen of England at a state banquet during Irish president Michael D Higgins' state visit.
Robinson, who attends the Elim Pentecostal church, had earlier discounted the idea of meeting the Pope.
"I am not of that faith, and therefore don't have the same desire to do so, but I would defend the right of others to meet their spiritual leader."
He has now softened this stance in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph and he has clearly given the protocol some thought.
"The one thing you wouldn't be doing is offending any section of our community, particularly a section of the community that would have a strong adherence to the Pope," Robinson said.
The Irish Catholic reported that the Vatican would consider any invitation from the government in the context of a so-called one-island approach where the pope would visit sites on both sides of the border. Given the significance of Armagh, both ecclesiastically and as a diocese which straddles the border, a visit to the city is considered a must.
Senator David Norris, who has been pushing for such an invitation told the Irish Catholic that “a visit by the Pope would be wonderful. It would be good for the country. Let’s hope he does visit.
“He is one of the very few people with a genuinely global vision on topics such as human rights, unemployment, young people, the financial system,” Senator Norris said.
Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan told the Irish Catholic that he is hopeful the Pope would accept an invitation to pay a state visit to Ireland.
“We don’t have an exact time frame on when this might happen, but we are very hopeful that it will become a reality.
“The Holy Father is aware of it, so it’s up to the Vatican now. It would be a huge boost to the country, not just for Catholicism but for society on the whole,” Mr Coghlan said.
Recent comments by President Michael D. Higgins praising the Pope’s global leadership are also being interpreted as signaling to the Vatican that the Government would welcome a visit by Pope Francis.
Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979 and gave an open air mass to over one million people at Dublin's Phoenix Park. It is believed to be one of the largest gatherings in Ireland's history.