SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon has welcomed news that Pope Francis is to make a visit to Ireland, north and south in August 2018.
Ms Mallon, a former Lord Mayor who welcomed Queen Elizabeth to Belfast, said that a papal visit to the North will make an important contribution to the process of healing and reconciliation across the island.
She said: “Pope Francis’ papacy has been characterised by a steadfast focus on challenging poverty, exclusion and social injustice and a concern more about the plight of the vulnerable across the world than with the auspices of his position or his institution.
“That should be an example to us all.
“I’m delighted that Pope Francis will visit Northern Ireland in 2018.
“The previous visit of Saint John Paul during the darkest days of conflict was a symbol of hope at a time when the people of Ireland needed it most.
“We’ve come a long way since then but we have so much ground left to travel.
“His visit to the North will, I believe, reignite reconciliation between communities across this island, providing a new imperative not only to heal the wounds of our past but to work in partnership to tackle the injustice that endures in our society.
“Respectful sharing in the experience of our faith and our tradition can be a catalyst for transforming this society. It is my sincere hope that the experience will be shared by everyone.”
SDLP Armagh Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon added:
“As the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland Armagh must be on the itinerary, and wouldn’t it be remarkable if he could visit both Cathedrals to St Patrick in the spirit of friendship and Christianity.
“On hearing formal confirmation of the visit this morning, I have asked that the Council’s Chief Executive engage directly with the Church authorities in Armagh to offer what every logistical support and assistance we can in hosting a papal visit in Armagh.”