The Vatican has thanked Belfast City Council for inviting Pope Francis to Northern Ireland’s capital city.
Amid a degree of controversy, the council has twice voted to invite the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics to Belfast.
In 2014, an SDLP motion to invite the Pope to Belfast was passed by councillors.
Last November a second motion came before the council from Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister, inviting the pontiff to cross the border when he is in Dublin in 2018 for the ninth World Meeting of Families.
Given that an open invitation had already been extended to the Vatican, unionists accused Alliance of electioneering with the issue, but only one unionist councillor – the TUV’s Jolene Bunting – voted against the proposal, which was passed by 38 votes to one.
Significantly, the Ulster Unionists voted for the motion for the first time.
In a letter dated December 16 which has now been published by the council, the Vatican has responded to the invitation, but given little away as to whether it intends to accept the offer.
Monsignor Peter B Wells in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State wrote to Belfast City Council’s chief executive Suzanne Wylie to say: “I am writing on behalf of the Cardinal Secretary of State to acknowledge your letter of 16 November communicating a further Notice of Motion passed by the Belfast City Council favorable [US spelling in letter] to a visit to the city from His Holiness Pope Francis.
“His Eminence has asked me to thank the City Council for this renewed invitation to the Holy Father to visit Belfast on a future journey to Ireland.
“Please be assured that the invitation has been duly noted.”