Queen 'to join Pope on visit to North next year'
Pope Francis and Britain's Queen Elizabeth could visit Northern Ireland together next year, it has been reported.
The Pope is expected to visit Ireland in August for the 2018 World Meeting of Families.
The Vatican is expected to make an official announcement early in the new year regarding a visit by the Pope.
It is likely that any trip to Northern Ireland will also be made known within the next few weeks.
The possibility of the Pontiff making an official visit to the North gathered pace yesterday. Archbishop Richard Clarke made the suggestion in an interview with Q Radio that the leader of the Catholic Church could even be accompanied by the British monarch. The archbishop said that a joint visit by the Pope and the queen to Northern Ireland would be "remarkable and wonderful".
"The Church of Ireland bishops and archbishops made it very clear they would be very happy to see the Pope in Ireland, North or South," he said.
"I suppose for them both to be seen together would be a momentous occasion but it would not be the first time the Pope and queen have met together."
The queen had a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014.
Fr Tim Bartlett, one of the organisers of the World Meeting of Families, to be held in Dublin next August, said: "There is a very real possibility that Pope Francis will be joining us in August next year.
"I know he wants to be with us and we look forward to an announcement in January or February."
Officials say that the Pope's schedule is not confirmed until a few months prior to any event.
Last November, former Taoiseach Enda Kenny held a private meeting at the Vatican with the head of the Catholic Church.
The last time there was a Papal visit to Ireland was in 1979, when Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at the Phoenix Park in Dublin.
Asked about the prospect of a Papal visit in the North, a DUP spokesperson said: "Any potential visit to Northern Ireland by the Pope is a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
"The party leader [Arlene Foster] previously indicated that she would respect his position as head of state."