Ireland’s second house of parliament, the Seanad, has agreed to officially invite Pope Francis for a visit to Ireland.

Senators agreed unanimously to call on the government to arrange an official visit for the pontiff with controversial gay rights activist Senator David Norris leading the call for the papal visit.

Speaking in the Seanad Norris said:

“I’m a realist, I’m an Anglican, I have no intention whatsoever of changing my religion because I’m impressed by this man. I also don’t believe he is going to go out campaigning for gay marriage, or women priests or anything like that.

“I believe, however, he has changed the entire climate of debate within the [Catholic] Church.”

Irish senators agreed the pope should come to Ireland on a full state visit, including a meeting with President Michael D Higgins.

Senator Norris also added that he believed a visit by the pope would “lift the spirit of Ireland” and begin a healing process between Ireland and the Catholic Church.

One of Ireland’s most outspoken activists, Norris acknowledged the pope’s efforts to engage with the community and allow “genuine healing” to begin. He added that it was “perfectly clear” that sexuality was now on the backburner when it came to the church, saying that Pope Francis was now dealing with “real” issues.

“I felt a strong emotional connection with him then and when he refused to be decorated like a Christmas tree,” he said.

“I believe he would give this country a lift and we need a lift.”

He added that the reason he came up with the idea to extend an invite to Pope Francis was because he felt there are very few leaders that have vision, and he believes the pope does. Pope Francis has “spotted the iceberg and is trying at least to turn the Titanic around.”

The “bullying language” that the Vatican typically used is disappearing, said Norris, stating that Pope Francis is a “man of genuine Christ-like ability.”

He said he would be humbled to be in his presence if he accepted their invitation. The motion was supported by a number of other senators with Norris calling on the Taoiseach (Ireland’s Prime Minister) Enda Kenny to extend the invitation.

Pope Francis has seen a huge surge in popularity since his appointment. He was named Time Magazine’s person of the year, nominated for the 2013 Tipperary International Peace Award and even graced the cover of Advocate magazine.

The Advocate, which is America’s oldest gay rights magazine, chose the head of the Catholic Church as the “single most influential person of 2013” on the lives of LGBT people.

The magazine acknowledged that, as leader to over one billion Catholics, the pope is in a very powerful position and his messages are well received worldwide as the popularity of Pope Francis continues to grow.

During a recent audience, Pope Francis encouraged the pilgrims filling St. Peter's Square to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

Acknowledging a popular objection to the sacrament, Pope Francis noted, “someone can say, ‘I confess my sins only to God.’ Yes, you can say to God, ‘forgive me,’ and say your sins. But our sins are also against our brothers, against the Church. This is is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the Church and of our brothers, in the person of the priest.”

Forgiveness is not something we can give ourselves,” cautioned the Pope.

“One asks forgiveness, one asks it of another person, and in confession, we ask forgiveness from Jesus.”

The last Papal visit was by Pope John Paul II in 1979. Here are some highlights from the Phoenix Park.