‘Changed circumstances’ mean Pope may now extend Dublin visit to Northern Ireland, says President Higgins in Rome
The chances of an historic Papal visit to Northern Ireland greatly increased this week, Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins said during a visit to the Vatican. President Higgins met His Holiness Pope Francis in the Vatican on Monday ahead of the Pontiff ’s much anticipated visit to Ireland next year for the World Meeting of Families in August.
During his 15-minute audience at the Papal Library in the Vatican President Higgins raised the prospect of Pope Francis going on to visit Northern Ireland when he visits Dublin next year. He also raised Irish concerns about Brexit with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin during an hour long meeting which followed his audience with the Pope.
On his appointment by Pope Francis in October 2013, aged just 58, Cardinal Parolin became the youngest Vatican Secretary of State since 1929 when Cardinal Pacelli – the future Pope Pius Xll – took the job aged 53.
Speaking to reporters after meeting the Pope and Cardinal Parolin, President Higgins conceded there now might be a greater likelihood of a papal visit to Northern Ireland.
The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who revealed earlier this year that the Pope’s determination to visit the World Meeting of Families, originally suggested the visit may be quite brief and limited. But this week President Higgins said he had detected that things had changed: “There is agreement that circumstances have changed and that there is a better prospect and more scope.
“Particularly in the conversation with Cardinal Parolin more, we had an opportunity, and a longer meeting, of discussing the changed circumstances of the last papal visit and the different circumstances now.
“I have to say as well that in all of that, in that second longer meeting, we were able to discuss specifically the importance of the Brexit negotiations in relation to the peace process.
“I think there was general agreement that circumstances were quite different now, and therefore the difficulties that might have been anticipated years ago, these circumstances were changed.”
When pressed if Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin both felt that circumstances had changed, President Higgins said: “Yes, there is agreement that circumstances have changed and that there is a better prospect and more scope.”
The President, said his office, has long admired Pope Francis’s leadership on “the most pressing issues of our times, migration, poverty, conflict and global responsibility”.
He was greeted by Pope Francis in the Sala del Tronetta before he was led into the Papal Library for the private audience.
During the meeting that followed, said President Higgins’ office, he and His Holiness Pope Francis “discussed a wide range of issues of mutual concern, including migration; climate change; sustainable development; the failure to prevent ever increasing threats of conflict; global poverty; the need to achieve social cohesion, values of solidarity and global responsibility in forthcoming discussions on the future of Europe.
“The Aras added the President and Pope Francis spoke of their shared conviction that new connections between ethics, economy and ecology must be at the core of all work of social and intellectual reconstruction in this new century.
“They also agreed that there can be no resolution to the issues we face without an engaged alternative to what the Pope has referred to as ‘the globalisation of indifference’,” it said.
Sense of Urgency
The President and Pope Francis agreed on the need for the sense of urgency that attaches to present challenges to be recognised in the agendas of meetings such as the upcoming G7 meeting in Taormina, and acceptance of the need to craft new and effective responses to global challenges. In particular, they agreed on the need to turn commitments on which the public had placed their trust into outcomes and action. The President was informed of and welcomed the appointment of Archbishop Okolo as Papal Nuncio to Ireland. After their meeting President Higgins gave Pope Francis a piece of art by renowned citizen-artist Vivienne Roche. The artwork is part of a series of Climate Bells made by Ms. Roche, which was inspired by the address by President Michael D. Higgins at the Summit of Conscience for Climate, in Paris in July 2015, convened by President Hollande of France. The handbells signify the ‘Call to Community’ identified by President Higgins as being so necessary to limit climate change and to achieve the targets agreed later that year at the Paris Conference. The bell presented by President and Sabina Higgins to His Holiness Pope Frances is the fifth bell in the series of Climate Bells, and is entitled ‘Mother Earth Bell.’ Bells exist in almost all cultures and so our ability to hear them collectively connects us to one another over time and place, said President Higgins’ office.
In turn Pope Francis presented medallions with an inscription of Isaiah, in which the Old Testament prophet refers to the desert becoming a fertile field, and the field then becoming a forest. President Higgins travelled to Rome from the Venice Biennale, the world’s largest and oldest international art festival. The President later met Irish clergy and lay staff who work at the Vatican.