The Pope Francis visit to Ireland will lack the one essential element that would have made it truly historic - a visit to Northern Ireland.

Organizers seem to have balked at that opportunity, but to their detriment, it seems.

According to one report, they feared a fresh outbreak of violence if the pope crossed the invisible border, which seems a massive overreaction.

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In an era where the Irish leader Leo Varadkar meets with the Orange Order, where the Queen makes a state visit to Dublin, where visits by royals south of the border are met with a shrug, surely the pope could have gone North with no fear of any violence.

That certainly seemed the intent of the Northern bishops who pressed hard to have the Pontiff cross the border. They understood the monumental historical import such a visit would have had but alas, they were overruled.

The trip to Dublin and then Knock is neither unique or historical. John Paul II, 39 years ago, trod that path to incredible scenes as crowds went wild and an estimated one in three Irish citizens turned out to see him.

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The furthest North he went was Drogheda where his impassioned plea for peace in the North proved an important moment as one priest listening, the magnificent Redemptorist Father Alec Reid, subsequently took it upon himself to become a peacemaker and began the Hume/Adams talks.

A Francis trip to the North would also have covered that ground, the incredible sweep of history that brought peace and that was connected in a profound way to Pope John Paul's first-ever visit and plea for peace.

The other missed opportunity of the Pope Francis visit is to meet some of the women who survived terrible conditions in the mother and baby homes, known now as the Magdalene scandal.

Knock is in the Archdiocese of Tuam, the town where the worst abuse of all was meted out to defenseless women and children.

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It would be a second miracle at Knock if Francis recognized and acknowledged some of these Tuam women but it seems highly unlikely given the church’s evasive response to the issue.

The Ireland that Francis is visiting is light years away from what John Paul II encountered. The church has faltered in extraordinary fashion since that visit. Francis is seeking to reclaim some of that lost ground but the schedule as planned makes that far less likely.

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