With Pope Francis set to visit Ireland in 2018 – making him the first Pope to visit the country in nearly 40 years – Ireland's ambassador to the Holy See said it's an important trip, especially given the shared interest between the Vatican and Irish government on a number of key issues.
“It has been almost 40 years since a Papal visit to Ireland, the last
visit being that of Pope John Paul II in 1979,” Irish ambassador Emma
Madigan told CNA in an interview. So a papal visit in 2018 “would be
Of particular interest to the Irish people is the constant attention
Pope Francis gives to issues such as migration and reaching out to the
poor and marginalized, she said, adding that this “resonates very much
with the Irish people.”
“In engaging with Pope Francis directly, his clear commitment to
tackling issues such as social exclusion, youth unemployment and the
migration crisis is striking,” she said, noting that on a personal
level, “I have found Pope Francis to be very warm each time we meet.”
These topics were all major talking points between Pope Francis and
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny T.D. during the latter's visit to the
Holy See in November, in addition to unemployment and challenges posed
by the recent referendum in the U.K. on its membership in the European
While the political, social and ecclesial situation in Ireland has
changed significantly since John Paul II's visit, there are hopes that
Pope Francis will make the step the Polish Pope wasn't able to do, and
cross the border into Northern Ireland.
Ambassador Madigan said the possibility is still being discussed, but
stressed that the Pope's primary reason for visiting Ireland is for the
World Meeting of Families (WMOF) in Dublin, an event the Irish
government took the opportunity to “warmly welcome” during Kenny's
The government, she said, will “provide every appropriate assistance”
for both the Pope's visit and the WMOF, which is being organized by “a
good Dublin man, Cardinal Kevin Farrell,” who heads the Vatican office
for Laity, Family and Life, as well as Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid
In addition to the Pope's trip and the WMOF, which were both big
points of discussion during the Irish bishops’ recent ad limina visit to
Rome, Madigan also offered her reflections on her tenure as ambassador
to the Holy See, key points of collaboration, and what the Pope’s
presence in Ireland could mean in the aftermath of Brexit.
Below is the full text of CNA's interview with Ambassador Madigan:
You have been in Rome for two years. How has your experience been so far working with Pope Francis?
I have been very privileged to work in this position now for just
over two years – it is a fascinating assignment. The Holy See has a huge
global network and, I think, a unique insight into societies and
developments across the world. It has views on regional issues in the
Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Ukraine, Colombia and Venezuela and
situations of tension around the globe as well as on broader questions
of migration, human rights, protection of religious minorities and
promoting sustainable development.
In engaging with Pope Francis directly, his clear commitment to
tackling issues such as social exclusion, youth unemployment and the
migration crisis is striking. On a personal level, I have found Pope
Francis to be very warm each time we meet.
What are the greatest areas of collaboration between the
Holy See and Ireland? Are there any specific projects now, or being
planned for the future?
Ireland and the Holy See are both firm believers in the need for
effective multilateral cooperation among nations to face global
challenges. We are believers in a peaceful rules-based world and in the
power of dialogue.
Our long-standing relationship takes in many global
issues of mutual interest, including human rights, sustainable
development, eradicating hunger, climate change, disarmament, migration
and human trafficking, freedom of religion or belief, and peaceful
resolution of conflicts.
In particular during the recent visit of the Taoiseach (Prime
Minister), Mr. Enda Kenny T.D. to the Holy See last November, subjects
discussed included recent developments in Europe, in particular the
migration and refugee crisis, the task facing the European Union in
tackling social exclusion and youth unemployment and political and
institutional challenges including those arising from the recent
referendum in the UK on its membership of the European Union.
During the visit, the Taoiseach took the opportunity to warmly
welcome the decision by Pope Francis to hold the 2018 World Meeting of
Families in Dublin and expressed the Government’s full support for the
invitation issued by the Irish Bishops’ Conference for him to visit
Ireland. The Taoiseach assured Pope Francis that the Government would
provide every appropriate assistance for such a visit.
Planning for the
World Meeting of Families is being undertaken by the Dicastery for the
Laity, Family and Life – led of course by a good Dublin man, Cardinal
Kevin Farrell – and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin as bishop of the host
Pope Francis has said that he (or his successor) will
come to Ireland in 2018 for the World Meeting of Families. What would a
papal visit signify for the country?
It has been almost 40 years since a Papal visit to Ireland, the last
visit being that of Pope John Paul II in 1979 and therefore I think a
visit in 2018 would be hugely significant. Pope Francis’ focus on issues
such as migration and helping the poor and marginalised resonates very
much with the Irish people.
It's rumored that he wants/plans to cross the border into
North Ireland. How do you think that gesture would be received on
Pope John Paul II was unable to visit Northern Ireland in 1979 but
the situation in Northern Ireland has been transformed since then. The
principal purpose of the Pope’s visit to Ireland would be to attend the
World Meeting of Families and possible plans to widen that schedule
would be looked at in due course in conjunction with the Bishops’
The Pope's visit will fall in the aftermath of Brexit. As someone
constantly speaking about unity, could his message perhaps help to ease
the situation depending on how the border is handled?
Negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU will begin as soon as
possible after the UK triggers Article 50 of the EU Treaties, which is
expected by the end of March. There will then be two years for
completing the negotiations.
The Irish Government has been clear about
its priorities as we move ahead and these remain our citizens, our
economy, Northern Ireland, our Common Travel Area (with the UK) and the
future of the EU itself. A key goal is to work to ensure that the work
of the peace process is preserved.
To this end, the Irish Government
will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive, as we
have done for many years, including through the North South Ministerial
Council (a Good Friday Agreement institution). The EU has played a key
role in progressing the peace process in Northern Ireland and continues
to be a strong supporter.
Ireland is a proud member of the EU and our
membership, based on the values we share with our European Partners, has
been central to Ireland’s economic and social development over the past