Pope Francis will “do everything he can” to come to Ireland next year, a senior Vatican official has said.
Several months after Taoiseach Enda Kenny broke news of the intended visit, the Holy See confirmed plans are being made for the pontiff to travel.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, said it is hoped the Pope will attend the church’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August 2018.
“If the Pope is possibly able to be there, and circumstances around the world permit him to be able to go there, I’m sure he will do everything he possibly can, at least that’s what he has expressed, to be there,” the cardinal said.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said: “If he does come, he’ll surprise us and challenge us.
“It will be very different from an earlier visit, the only time a pope came to Ireland. Ireland has changed. The Pope has changed and he will live up to challenging us.”
A visit by the pontiff would be the first by the head of the Catholic Church since Pope John Paul II came to the Republic in 1979.
He was unable to visit Northern Ireland and instead, amid widespread security fears and cross-community tensions, he travelled as far as Drogheda, just south of the border, and addressed hundreds of thousands, including many from north of the Irish border.
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster, whose party was staunchly anti-papist under the late Ian Paisley, has pledged to meet Pope Francis if he can make a trip into Northern Ireland.
The World Meeting of Families, which is held every three years, takes place in Dublin from August 21 to 26 2018.
In a letter on the gathering, the Pope said: “My thoughts go in a special way to the Archdiocese of Dublin and to all the dear Irish nation for the generous welcome and commitment involved in hosting such an important event.”
Just five years ago, amid a wave of inquiries into decades of clerical child sex abuse in Ireland, the Taoiseach branded the Holy See “a dysfunctional, elite hierarchy” which was determined to frustrate the investigations of “a sovereign, democratic republic”.
The Vatican recalled its ambassador to Ireland just days after the unprecedented attack by an Irish premier on the Catholic Church hierarchy.
The Irish Embassy to the Holy See in Rome was also shut that year, ostensibly as a cost-cutting measure. It reopened three years later.
In Ireland, a Citizens Assembly is due to issue recommendations next year on the Eighth Amendment to the Republic’s Constitution, which recognises “the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother”.