DUBLIN (Reuters) - Pope Francis will not visit British-ruled Northern Ireland this summer when he makes the first papal visit to Ireland in almost 40 years, the Vatican said on Monday.
Francis arrives in Dublin on August 25 for a two-day visit when the Irish capital hosts the 9th World Meeting of Families, a Roman Catholic event held every three years.
The visit comes after voters in Ireland overwhelmingly overturned one of the world’s strictest bans on abortions in a referendum, despite opposition from the Catholic Church.
Senior clerics, including the Archbishop of Armagh and all-Ireland primate Eamon Martin, had been pressing for the inclusion of Northern Ireland on his itinerary as a contribution to the peace process.
But many feared a visit to Northern Ireland would destabilize a delicate peace between Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups that has held since a 1998 accord ended decades of sectarian conflict that killed more than 3,600 people.
“We really were hoping that this might be an opportunity for the holy father to visit Northern Ireland,” Archbishop Martin told Irish radio on Monday.
“I think he would love to come, but the pressures of this event, and all that he wants to do for the World Meeting of Families, has overtaken that.”
Francis will attend two large public events in Dublin – the Festival of Families in Croke Park Stadium and a mass in Phoenix Park. Pope John Paul II gave a mass in the park to more than a million people in 1979 during the last papal visit to Ireland.
During that visit, the pope went as far north as Drogheda, but security fears prevented his crossing the border to visit Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of the whole island.
Francis will meet Irish President Michael D. Higgins, civil society groups and also visit the Knock shrine in county Mayo.
Reporting by Graham Fahy; Editing by Gareth Jones