Pope hopes Ireland visit will foster ‘unity and reconciliation’

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The Pope has expressed hope his visit to Ireland will help grow unity and reconciliation among Christians on the island.

In a video message released ahead of his weekend arrival, Pope Francis said he was excited about his two-day trip to Dublin and the Knock holy shrine in Co Mayo.

The Pope is also attending the Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families during a packed itinerary of engagements.

The video message coincided with the opening of the major family-themed event in Dublin on Tuesday evening.

“Although the specific reason for my visit to Ireland is the World Meeting of Families, I would like to include all the members of the Irish family,” said the Pope.

“In a particular way, I pray that it may further the growth of unity and reconciliation among all Christ’s followers, as a sign of that lasting peace which is God’s dream for our whole human family.”

In opening the message, the pontiff said: “As I prepare to visit Ireland in a few days’ time for the World Meeting of Families, I send a warm word of greeting to all the Irish people. I am excited at the thought of returning to Ireland.”

The Pope is not due to travel to Northern Ireland during his visit, despite being urged by religious figures on both sides of the region’s sectarian divide to travel across the border.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Vatican confirmed the Pope would hold a private meeting with victims of church abuse during his visit.

The Catholic Church in the Republic has been rocked by revelations of wrongdoing by members of the religious orders stretching back decades.

One campaigner said survivors of clerical sex abuse are hoping for real action after they meet Pope Francis.

Earlier this week, the leader of the world church condemned the “atrocities” of child sex abuse and clerical cover-ups in a strongly-worded open letter to the faithful.

Maeve Lewis, executive director of the One In Four Irish charity for those affected by sexual abuse, said: “If the Pope is in an open, listening mode when he meets the survivors he can learn a lot about the terrible devastation of sex abuse and how people feel let down.

“If he makes any promises to survivors in terms of actions he should follow through on that.

“It would be terribly hurtful if the meeting (produced) no concrete outcome as a result of this.”

The Pope is due to arrive in Dublin on Saturday for two days of meetings with families and political authorities, as well as a trip to the Knock shrine, which is revered by Catholics.

Kate Walmsley, 62, suffered sex abuse at the hands of a priest.

She said: “If he is the head of the Catholic Church then he is the person we need to talk to to put forward the wrongs all the children have suffered and I am one of them.”

Pope Francis visit to Ireland
Preparations in Dublin’s Phoenix Park ahead of the visit (Laura Hutton/PA)

Ms Lewis said it would have been an “insult” had the Pope not met survivors.

She said some would very much want to engage while others would avoid him due to a sense of “betrayal”.

Last week a grand jury report outlined seven decades of abuse in Pennsylvania.

The investigation found more than 1,000 children had been abused by 300 priests.

The Pope has apologised after defending a bishop in Chile who was accused of hiding abuses by a priest.

Ireland is gearing up for its first papal visit in 40 years during which at least half a million people are expected to attend a special mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

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