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Free Presbyterians vow to protest if Pope visits Northern Ireland

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala during a private audience yesterday (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Leaders of the Free Presbyterian Church in Ireland have vowed to launch protests if the Pope visits Northern Ireland in 2018.

Following reports that during a private meeting yesterday Pope Francis told the taoiseach, Enda Kennedy, that he would visit Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland, for the World Meeting of Families, a Free Presbyterian minister has said he would protest if the Pope crossed the border into Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, said he believed the Pope would visit Northern Ireland during his trip. “I think there is no prospect whatsoever of him coming to Ireland and him not coming to the north,” McGuinness said.

A spokesman for Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, said: “Were the pope to visit Northern Ireland in his capacity as head of state then the first minister would meet him.”

Rev Ian Brown of the Martyrs’ Memorial Church on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast told that because the current Pope is “no closer to proclaiming the one true biblical Gospel – that salvation is by faith alone through Christ alone” that “the only proper response to his high publicity visit is a solid protest.”

The retired free Presbyterian minister who accompanied Rev Ian Paisley to Strasbourg in 1988 to protest St John Paul II’s visit, also pledged to protest if Pope Francis visits Ireland.

Rev McIlveen said that while he respected the rights of Northern Irish Catholics to have a “pastoral visit” by their Church leader he said he also had an obligation to hold a “peaceful protest.”

Meanwhile the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland and Church of Ireland welcomed the news and the Evangelical Alliance’s David Smyth supported the visit on the grounds of “religious freedom”.

The Vatican has yet to confirm if the reports about a papal visit are true.

Enda Kennedy visited the Vatican yesterday with his wife, Fionnuala, and the Irish ambassador to the Holy See, Emma Madigan.

During the meeting, Kenny said he referenced St John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979 when the pontiff was not able to visit Northern Ireland due to the volatile political situation.

“I said to [the Pope] that very point, that John Paul couldn’t go because of the Troubles at the time,” he said. “He did pray for peace on his knees at that time and ask the men of violence to give up their ways. So [Francis] did say that the schedule will be worked out in dialogue between the bishops and the Church themselves.”

Kenny added: “What I said to him was he’s going to be very welcome. The government will make whatever arrangements it needs to make. If it transpires that the pope wants to go to Northern Ireland for a visit, we will cooperate and work with the executive [power sharing government in Belfast].”

The meeting between Kenny and the Pope was requested after the Irish Catholic bishops’ conference invited the Pope to visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in August 2018.