Having just taken part in a BBC NI film When the Pope Came to Ireland 30 years ago, Ive been thinking that a visit from Pope Benedict next year could hardly be more different. The film vividly recorded the contrast between yesterdays faith and hope in grim days and todays disillusion and fragmentation in otherwise better times. The expectation that a Pope will visit Armagh at last will no doubt be welcome. JP2s plans were finally dashed by the horrors of the Mountbatten assassination and the Narrow Water massacre (though at the time I didn’t believe for a moment that Armagh was really on). However, heartburn will surely be felt as the Pope is apparently to come as part of a state visit to the UK rather than in a pastoral visit to Ireland like his predecessor.
Unlike 1982 (when John Paul made a pastoral visit to Britain and balanced it with one to Argentina during the Falklands War) and when the Troubles in Ulster were raging, the Pope is expected to include Northern Ireland in his itinerary. Mr Brown specifically asked the Pope to visit all parts of the UK when he invited the pontiff. Armagh is one location being considered.
But we havent heard the full range of the plans yet and perhaps an Irish pastoral visit will emerge too. Lets hope they dont fumble this one. After all. Ireland is a single pastoral entity for all the main churches.