Planning is under way for visit by Pope in 2018
Advanced plans are under way to bring the Pope to Ireland in 2018, provided he remains in good health.
The Vatican confirmed that the World Meeting of Families will be held in Dublin from August 22 to 26, 2018 - and the Pope is almost certain to attend.
High-level delegations from Rome have already been in Dublin for preliminary discussions on the visit, the Irish Independent has learned.
But official confirmation of the trip is not expected until the end of 2017 or early 2018.
The World Meeting of Families is the largest universal gathering of Catholic families from all over the world. It is held every three years in a different country, after being started in 1994 as an initiative of the late Pope John Paul II.
The Dublin event in August 2018 will feature the theme 'The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World'.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who attended a Vatican news conference yesterday, confirmed that the pontiff wishes to visit Ireland to coincide with the event.
He said: "The Pope has told me that it is his wish to be in Dublin but we all know that the Pope's programme is defined in detail much closer to the event and many things can change."
The Irish church leader said he hoped that a visit to Northern Ireland would also be on the agenda of a papal visit.
He recently told Irish Independent journalist Paul Williams that Pope Francis had told him that either he or his successor would visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in 2018. However, he also acknowledged that the 79-year-old Argentinian "knows his health problems".
Dr Martin said: "The Pope has expressed his desire to attend, and such a visit of the Pope would bring great joy to Irish Catholics and others, but the final decision will depend on a number of factors. Given the age of Pope Francis, a possible visit of the Pope in 2018 would inevitably have a more restricted programme than that of the papal visit of Pope St John Paul II in 1979."
For some time there has been speculation that the 2018 papal visit would be a two-stop affair, taking in the World Meeting of Families in Dublin and Armagh in Northern Ireland, which the late John Paul II was unable to visit in 1979 due to security concerns over the Troubles.
Dr Martin said the Pope could bring some gesture of peace and reconciliation to Northern Ireland "in a way that few other people could do it".
The Archbishop also said it was significant that Pope Francis had chosen the family as the theme of the first Synod of Bishops of his Pontificate.