Papal visit for 2012 on cards but protests expected
A PAPAL visit to Ireland is expected in June next year, although no confirmation has yet been announced by the Vatican.
The Pope is expected to be the chief celebrant at an open air Mass in Dublin's Croke Park on June 17, 2012, marking the end of a week-long International Eucharistic Congress.
Church leaders hope Pope Benedict XVI will also visit Northern Ireland.
This would be only the second visit by a pontiff to the Republic and the first to Northern Ireland.
During the historic visit of the late Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979, plans for the Polish pontiff to go North were called off on account of Provisional IRA violence.
Last September, Pope Benedict did not include Northern Ireland on his visit to Scotland and England, which was acclaimed a success in spite of protests from abuse victims and gay rights groups.
After the public and media outrage over the Vatican's refusal to cooperate with the commission of inquiry into the archdiocese of Dublin, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, a visit to Ireland by Pope Benedict would almost certainly provoke protests, and would not attract the enthusiastic crowds who flocked to see Pope John Paul.
Speculation of a papal visit to Ireland has been rife since Pope Benedict selected Dublin as the venue for the world congress to foster spiritual renewal, in the wake of the clerical child abuse scandals and cover-ups which damaged the standing of the Irish church.
Invitations to visit Ireland are in Pope Benedict's in-tray from President Mary McAleese, the Government, and Cardinal Sean Brady on behalf of the Irish Conference of Bishops.
But under Vatican protocol, it is the Pope's prerogative to announce his travel plans, and as Pope Benedict would be 85 by June 2011, a confirmation of his intention of leading the Congress in Ireland would not be expected until early next year.
The more immediate focus of the German pontiff is the report and recommendations that he will receive later this month from a team of international investigators he appointed to conduct a confidential probe in Ireland.
However, preparations for the Eucharistic Congress have been intensifying and a programme of events will be unveiled today at a conference at the RDS in Dublin.
Launching the schedule for June 10-17, 2012, will be Cardinal Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who will be the president of the congress, which was last held in the Irish capital in 1932.
Also taking part will be Fr Kevin Doran, secretary general of the congress, and Anne Griffin, the congress's general manager.
Also present will be the choir from the Holy Child Secondary School, Killiney, who will sing the selected Congress hymn, 'Though We Are Many', composed by Bernard Sexton.
Next week, on St Patrick's Day, a pilgrimage of the Congress Bell will leave St Mary's Pro Cathedral, Dublin, for St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, and from there, to the other 24 dioceses in Ireland.
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