Northern Irish church leaders welcome Pope Francis visit

Several church leaders in Northern Ireland are welcoming the news of Pope Francis' visit to the Republic, saying it was good news for Christians on both sides of the border. 

The pope confirmed this week he would visit on August 25 and 26, in the first papal visit to the country since John Paul II in 1979.

The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference said in a statement that they were 'deeply honoured' by the visit, 'which no doubt will be an occasion of spiritual renewal for our laity, religious and clergy, as well as a strengthening of Christian family life'.

Pope Francis is expected to receive a largely warm welcome upon his Ireland visit.Reuters

As Christian Today's James MacIntyre has noted, the trip is conspicuous in its focus on the Republic, and not Northern Ireland – a move reflecting uncertainties arising from the Brexit vote.  

But former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Harold Good, told the Belfast Telegraph that the move was good for both Protestants and Catholics in both the north and south.

'I am very pleased for my Roman Catholic friends. Pope Francis is a universally respected person, not just for his own views and ecumenical spirit but for his integrity and humble approach,' the Northern-Irish born leader said.

'This will be particularly good for relations within Northern Ireland and will give us the opportunity to share in our neighbours' joy.'

Good played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process. Regarding Ireland's violent political history, he said the pontiff's trip 'will lay to rest the prejudices and fears of the past'.

The General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland – the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland – Rev Trevor Gribben, echoed the sentiment, saying that both sides of the border could be 'excited and encouraged' by the trip.

Though the clerical child abuse scandal remains a blight particularly on the Catholic Church – and potentially on the forthcoming visit – Good said he hoped Pope Francis's trip would give believers 'encouragement and confidence to move beyond recent scandals – not to forget or minimise them, but to allow us all to be the people we are called to be'.