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Armagh a ‘neutral’ venue as papal visit announcement looms

It would be “hugely disappointing” if the Pope does not cross the border following his expected visit to Ireland later this year – with Armagh the most likely destination.

Michael Kelly, editor of Irish Catholic, believes Armagh would be the best place as the city is “a neutral venue” given there are currently “all kinds of political connotations around Belfast, in particular Stormont”.

Mr Kelly, was speaking to Radio Ulster, says an announcement is expected around St Patrick’s Day, which will confirm what, at this stage, is a mere formality.

He added the reason for the relatively late announcement stems from the fact the Vatican do not like to give too much of an advanced schedule given the Pope’s age.

If all goes according to plan, Pope Francis will attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which will be held between August 21 and 26.

The last papal visit came in 1979 when Pope John Paul II travelled to Dublin and as far north as Drogheda, however, given the political landscape at the time, he did not cross into Northern Ireland.

“Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland for both the Protestant and Catholic Churches so there would be huge ecumenical symbolism to a visit there, and of course with the historic significance of St Patrick’s,” added Mr Kelly.

The Papal Nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo will pay his first visit to Armagh on Friday on march 16 to celebrate the Vigil Mass at 6pm.

Archbishop Okolo will close the Novena of Prayer to St Patrick and later that evening, he will join with the two Archbishops of Armagh in leading the Peace Walk from St Patrick’s COI Cathedral to St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral.

The significant visit adds fuel to the fire given the expected announcement.

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