Pope expected to visit in 2018 as Dublin hosts world gathering
Pope Francis is expected to make the first papal visit here in 40 years, after Ireland was selected to host the next World Meeting of Families.
The gathering, to be staged in 2018 in Dublin, is one of the most high-profile events for the global church and usually involves a visit by the Pontiff.
The Pope made the announcement at the conclusion of the outdoor Mass for one million people attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last night.
Ahead of the ceremony, the Pontiff met Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, the prelate who will oversee the event here. In Philadelphia, Dr Martin said he hoped it would be an occasion to take up the programme of the Synod on the family, which takes place in Rome next month.
"The family in Ireland is strong and the Church is called to take up the challenge of ensuring that future Catholic generations are prepared to live their marriage as an itinerary of faith," Dr Martin said.
The first and only papal visit to Ireland took place in 1979, when Pope John Paul II visited Dublin, Knock, Limerick, Drogheda and Galway.
However, official confirmation of a visit to Ireland by Pope Francis is unlikely to be made until a year ahead of the event, due to the Pope's age.
However, the leader of the Irish Church, Archbishop Eamon Martin, and the Pope's representative in Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, both signalled their hope that an announcement concerning a visit by Pope Francis was in the pipeline.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, said that he was expecting an answer to his invitation "very, very soon".
Speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent in Knock at the National Eucharistic Congress , the Archbishop said, "We have urged him to come; we have told him that we are really open to a visit and we're hoping that he will answer us very, very soon."
Dr Brown also told the Irish Independent: "It is my fervent hope that the possibility of the Pope visiting Ireland will be realised."
He referred to Taoiseach Enda Kenny's invitation to Pope Francis in April 2013, when he said if the Irish bishops invited the Pontiff, the Government would support their request.
"Pope Francis is well aware that many people in Ireland would love for him to come and visit," Dr Brown said.
"The Taoiseach himself mentioned that to the Pope and other people have mentioned it to the Pope. So he is really well aware of the desire for a papal visit in Ireland.
"I think Ireland would be a marvellous place for him to visit in the European context," he added.