The Irish government signaled on Wednesday that it would accept a visit next June by Pope Benedict for the Dublin International Eucharistic Congress, giving encouragement to organizers who had feared hopes of a papal visit had all but gone.
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore told an Irish parliamentary committee Dec. 14 that “(i)n order to remove any misunderstandings, I would like to make it clear that should the government be informed by the Holy See that Pope Benedict wishes to visit Ireland at a time of mutual convenience – for instance at the occasion of next year’s Eucharistic Congress – I have no doubt that the government will respond positively.”
In October, when asked a similar question, Gilmore told the parliament that “an invitation has not issued nor is one currently under active consideration.”
The organizers of the Eucharist Congress saw his statement as a rebuff to the idea of a papal visit. A month later, Gilmore also closed the Irish embassy to the Holy See in Rome, after 82 years in existence.
Gilmore asserted on Dec. 14 that the decision to close the Vatican embassy was purely a financial one based on “diminishing resources” for his department.
He also sought to clear up any “misunderstandings” about his government’s attitude toward a possible visit by the Pope, explaining that “according to normal diplomatic practice, invitations to heads of state to visit another country are neither sought nor issued in public.”
Instead, he said that “a formal invitation is issued only after notification that the head of state wishes to visit and dates have been agreed.”
The 50th International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Dublin from the June 10 to 17, 2012. Held every four years, the congress brings together Catholics from across the globe to pray and study the meaning of the Eucharist.
The Dublin event is expected to attract about 25,000 visitors per day, with 80,000 attending the final Mass at the city’s Croke Park Stadium. The organizers have issued an invitation to Pope Benedict and are still waiting for a response from the Vatican.
“The primary focus of the Congress is people’s encounter with Jesus Christ, but if the Pope also came that would be a real bonus. So I obviously welcome Mr. Gilmore’s comments,” congress organizer Fr. Kevin Doran told CNA Dec. 15.
Fr. Doran said that over the past six months he has received nothing both “generous support” from Ireland’s diplomatic staff across the world as he has worked to organize the congress.
In contrast, relations between the Dublin and Rome have been strained since Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny launched a blistering attack on the Catholic Church in July.
He accused the Vatican of attempting to “frustrate an inquiry” into clerical abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne, County Cork. The Vatican rejected his accusation and a spokesperson for the Prime Minister later stated that he was not referring to any specific incident. However, Kenny has refused to withdraw his remarks or apologize for them.