If Pope Francis were to visit to Ireland, it would not be his first time there. In 1980, when the Pope was in his 40s, he spent two months in the country learning English.
According to comments made by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, Pope Francis has a love for Ireland. The nuncio also said that a brief trip in 2016 is “possible”.
I fear that if planning a papal visit is not prioritised now, it may never happen. Pope Francis has a foreboding that his pontificate will only last four or five years. He is not a travelling pope, being very certain that he is the Bishop of Rome. But owing to his unassuming personality and his popularity, he has a golden opportunity to change hearts and minds during a visit to Ireland.
Pope Francis has an unpretentious manner and the Irish would take very well to him. There has already been a sea-change in Irish attitudes to the papacy. Today is St Patrick’s day, and it was revealed in the Irish Times that poet, Paul Durcan has written a poem in honour of Pope Francis in his new book of poems, entitled The Days of Surprise. In the times of Benedict’s papacy, had a poet paid tribute to Benedict with a poem, he would surely have been excoriated in the press.
If Francis visits Ireland, then it musn’t just be a charming social occasion. Pope Francis could do as Benedict XVI did, and meet privately with some abuse victims. Relying on his popularity to lend greater influence, it would be a daring move if Pope Francis were to invite the Irish nation to forgive the clergy and nuns who brought the name of Ireland into disrepute by their actions. As the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis could recite the Gospel passage where Jesus urges us “to forgive seventy times seven”.