Immediately, the main talking point was whether he would include Northern Ireland in his itinerary.
It was stated that such a visit would be hugely symbolic and a key piece of the peace process jigsaw. Pope John Paul II had been unable to cross the border in 1979 for security concerns, and the Vatican therefore viewed this as “unfinished business”.
The media, true to form, were ecstatic about all this, and sound-bites from the great and the good in church and state were eagerly sought and obtained. Rarely have we heard such excitement from certain church “leaders”.
Needless to say, the usual ecumenical suspects were quick to issue gushing statements of adulation about the wonderful and ever so humble Pope Francis and how universally welcome he would be. Michael Kelly of the ‘Irish Catholic’ said that while there might be small protests, these would be by “fringe elements”.
As an evangelical Protestant, I will not be welcoming a papal visit, and I know I am not alone.
Despite all the pandering to the Pope by senior figures in the main Protestant denominations, the fact remains that many within the Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist churches are totally opposed to the Pope’s claims and teachings, and to any visit.
It is all very well to assert, as some people have done, that the Pope’s visit should be welcomed on grounds of civil and religious liberties. I can understand that the Roman Catholic people would want to see their leader, but the reality is that no papal visit can be low-key or merely pastoral, for the Pope claims temporal and spiritual power over the whole earth.
He claims to be Vicar of Christ on earth, but the Reformers and Puritans correctly identified him as an enemy of Christ and of the Gospel.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the solemn words of the Westminster Confession of Faith where it states as Chapter 25 para 6, “There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God”.
Those words will be dismissed by some as the bigoted ramblings of a past age, but our Protestant forefathers had a better understanding of these matters than today’s largely secular and spiritually confused society. I stand where they stood.
It is imperative that all evangelical Protestants in church and state speak out clearly against the planned 2018 visit.
The voice of opposition must be heard.
John Finlay, DUP councillor Ballymoney