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Pope agrees 'in principle' to Irish visit

Pope John Paul II has accepted "in principle" an invitation to visit both parts of Ireland, although a trip this year appears unlikely, officials announced on Friday.

Irish Bishops last month invited the pope to come to the country to mark the 25th anniversary of his first visit there in 1979. Unlike that trip, this visit would include Northern Ireland, which is claimed by the British but within the jurisdiction of the Irish bishops.

"Our invitation request has been placed before the Holy Father and a reply has been received from the Vatican's secretariat of state indicating that the proposed visit has, in principle, been accepted," said Archbishop Sean Brady, primate for Ireland's four million Catholics.

"We are delighted with this response and hope that this visit will take place," he said.

In Rome, Vatican sources said they knew of no plans for an immediate visit by the pope to Ireland.

Brady said that given the pope's existing commitments this year "a visit in 2004, while not ruled out, is rather unlikely."

But the archbishop said local officials would begin planning for an eventual papal tour. The 84-year-old pontiff has Parkinson's disease and knee and hip problems.

"The program of places to be visited has yet to be prepared and agreed. ... An appropriate and substantial program of prayer, preparation and reflection is essential to ensure that the people of Ireland would gain maximum benefit from another papal visit," he said.

Brady's announcement came as the Holy Father wrapped up an Alpine vacation in northern Italy, with a last excursion by car into a valley with a view of Mount Blanc. On Saturday, John Paul was scheduled to travel from the mountains to his summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, in the Alban hills near Rome, where he will be based for the next two months.

The pope's health condition, including Parkinson's disease and hip and knee problems, has forced him to scale back physical activities, but the Irish announcement underscored his determination to still travel if possible.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told Vatican Radio that during the holiday the pope "rested and was able to go out every day," also spending time reading, and in prayer and in contemplation.

The pope had planned in August 1979 to visit the Northern Ireland city of Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland.

But the northern part of the trip was canceled, partly because of a surge that month in Irish Republican Army violence - the outlawed group assassinated Lord Mountbatten and killed 18 British paratroopers in a border ambush - and fears of possible protests by Protestant hard-liners.

Pope Agrees 'In Principle' to Irish Visit (The Guardian/Associated Press 16/7/04)

Pope Ends 12-Day Vacation in Italian Alps (Associated Press/ 17/7/04)
Catholic bishops' invitation to the Holy Father to visit Ireland has been accepted 'in principle' (Catholic Communications Ireland 16/7/04)
Pope may include Ulster on first visit to Ireland since 1979 (The Independent 17/7/04)
John Paul's August Visit to Lourdes is his 104th Foreign Trip (Vatican Information Service 16/7/04)
Pope accepts invitation to Ireland (Catholic World News 16/7/04)
Pope Visits More Nuns (Zenit 15/7/04)
Pope Accepts Invitation to Return to Ireland (Zenit 16/7/04)
Pope plans Irish visit (Daily Telegraph 17/7/04)
Pope accepts invite to visit Ireland (Reuters 16/7/04)
Health of Pope key factor in Irish visit (Belfast Telegraph 17/7/04)
Holy Father considers invitation from Turkey (The Universe)
Pope prays for girls who died in primary school blaze in India (Missionary Service News Agency 16/7/04)
Pope Prays for Children Who Died in India Fire (Zenit 16/7/04)
Pope offers prayers for victims of school fire in India (Catholic News Service 16/7/04)
Vatican releases schedule of Pope John Paul II's 104th trip (Catholic News Agency 16/7/04)
Listening to the word of God is the most important thing in life ( 18/7/04)

19 Jul 2004