One of Belfast’s most senior Protestant clerics has said he would welcome a visit from Pope Francis.
The Very Rev John Mann, Dean of Belfast, has also offered to lead a cross-community service should the pontiff include a trip to Belfast on any visit to Ireland.
In a letter to all 51 elected representatives on Belfast City Council, the Rev Mann said: “As Dean of Belfast Cathedral, I would be very happy to facilitate an ecumenical and cross-community service at St Anne’s, at which Pope Francis could be invited to address the churches of Belfast and share something of our journey of hope and reconciliation.”
The issue is due to be debated at Belfast City Hall next week.
SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy, who tabled the motion asking the council to formally invite the Pope to Belfast, said endorsement from everyone would send out a positive message.
Some unionists have voiced opposition, claiming a papal visit could heighten sectarian tensions.
In his letter, the Rev Mann encouraged elected representatives to “look favourably” on the motion.
He added: “I feel sure that he (Pope Francis) will have positive things to say to us, whilst demonstrating understanding and compassion in the context of Belfast today.”
NI Conservatives’ co-chair Trevor Ringland accused UUP councillor Jim Rodgers of “dinosaur-type thinking” after he opposed a papal invitation.
“The Ulster Unionist leadership has distanced itself for Mr Rodgers’ comments, but Mike Nesbitt has to be concerned that such dinosaur-type thinking still exists with his party,” he said.
Pope John Paul II visited the Republic of Ireland in 1979 but a planned visit to Armagh was called off after the IRA murdered Lord Mountbatten and ambushed 18 soldiers.