Monday 21 January 2019

Government will 'do all it can' to assist 2018 visit from Pope Francis

The pontiff is scheduled to come to Ireland in August 2018
The pontiff is scheduled to come to Ireland in August 2018

Deborah McAleese

The Government intends to do all it can to assist next year's visit from Pope Francis, the Taoiseach has said.

The pontiff is scheduled to come to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in August 2018 and it will be the first visit from a pope since John Paul II drew one million people to Phoenix Park in 1979.

Recently, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that the visit will cost around €20m.

Leo Varadkar said that the Government is due to meet with the Catholic Church in the new year to discuss the visit.

"They asked that we have someone here in the department as a contact point to assist them in the co-ordination and we made that available to them.

"We just don't know yet if it will be a very short visit just for the Meeting of World Families or whether it will be an extended visit involving other things such as Northern Ireland," Mr Varadkar said.

He said that the Government is "very much at (the) disposal" of the Catholic Church.

"The Government will assist in any way to facilitate Pope Francis's visit," he added.

The pope's advancing age - he is now 81 - would mean his itinerary will not be as packed as John Paul II's was in 1979.

While it may be possible for the pope to go outside Dublin, he would mainly be here for the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Martin said recently.

The archbishop also said that church collections would bring in around five million euro for the visit, with the remaining costs to be recouped through donations.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis likened the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to the migrations of millions of people today who are forced to leave their homelands for a better life during the Christmas Eve vigil Mass in the Vatican.

The Pope told the faithful that the "simple story" of Jesus' birth in a manger changed "our history forever".

He said: "Everything that night became a source of hope."

Noting that Mary and Joseph arrived in a land "where there was no place for them", the pontiff drew parallels to contemporary time.

"So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary," he said in his homily. "We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones."

"In many cases this departure is filled with hope, hope for the future; yet for many this departure can only have one name: survival," the pope said.

Referring to the king of Judea who was depicted as a tyrant in the New Testament, Francis continued, saying some migrants are "surviving the Herods of today, who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood".

Francis has made concern for economic migrants, war refugees and others on society's margins a central plank of his papacy.

He said God is present in "the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognisable, who walks through our cities and our neighborhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our door". That perception of God should develop into "new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this Earth," he said.

"Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity," Francis said.

At the start of the service, Francis bent over to kiss a statue of the baby Jesus in the basilica.

At midday on Monday, tradition calls for Francis to deliver the Christmas Day message "urbi et orbi" - Latin for "to the city and to the world" - from the central loggia of the basilica overlooking St Peter's Square. The speech often is a review of the world events and conflicts.

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