Pope Francis trip to Derry dependent on health

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, has suggested a potential visit by Pope Francis to Derry in 2018 will all depend on the Pontiff’s state of health.

Archbishop Martin said he also believed the Pope’s visit, which is due to take place during the World Meeting of Families in August 2018, is likely to be different in character to that of St. John Paul II.

In a recent interview with the ‘Sunday Business Post,’ Archbishop Martin said the itinerary of the Pope, who will celebrate his 82nd birthday in 2018, will depend on his health.

A report in ‘The Irish Catholic’ recently suggested the Pope was likely to visit “at least one location north of the border – possibly Armagh or Derry.”

But Archbishop Martin has now indicated that “a lot of this will totally depend on the health of Pope Francis to make extended journeys.”

He said he also expected the Pope’s visit to be in keeping with his highly personal pastoral style.

“We can see already from Pope Francis’ approach, he doesn’t go in for big gatherings of millions of people,” he said.

“Pope Francis works one-to-one. His most powerful moments are when he embraces a disabled child, where he reaches out to someone who has leprosy or visits a prisoner in their cell.”

Archbishop Martin also indicated the Catholic Church’s voice will be heard if there is a referendum on whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which acknowledges the “right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The Citizens’ Assembly, which is currently considering the matter, could recommend an Abortion Referendum when it reports next year, with a poll potentially coinciding with Pope Francis’ visit in 2018.

“He considers it a grave wrong to take the life of anyone, particularly the most defenceless,” continued Archbishop Martin.

“He would consider the unborn child as the exemplar par excellence of the vulnerable, defenceless human being.”

He added: “It’s because this is such a core issue for us and for the world. The day in which the world sanctions the taking of life is the day when every other thing begins to crumble.

“Therefore, because this is so fundamental to our teaching about ‘Thou Shalt not Kill,’ I would imagine we will be strong on this issue.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop Martin revealed he recently had to cancel a trip to a Trócaire project near Mosul, when his counterpart in Iraq told him it was too risky.

“He rang me up the week before and said ‘Don’t come.’ It was too dangerous,” he maintained.

He said he intended going out in the New Year.

The Derry-born church leader, a former President of St Columb’s College, also spoke of the formative influence his old alma mater had on his own personal development and vocation.

“We had a strong sense of the great men who had gone before us in the school. I would attribute my own vocation largely to the support and help I got from St Columb’s College and then to my own parish and my family,” continued the Archbishop.

“At that particular time in Derry, there really wasn’t a lot of hope for a young Catholic boy growing up. But St Columb’s would have encouraged us to have high aspirations for ourselves and a very strong sense we could contribute to the community, either in politics or community building or as teachers.”

He equally heaped praise on his parents for the solid upbringing he and his siblings received when Derry was effectively at war.

“We had a big family - six boys and six girls - six boys growing up in the middle of this. I have great regard and respect for my parents for the way they were able to keep us from getting involved.”