Published Monday, 13 February 2012
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Interview: Michael Kelly
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The presence in the group of Owen Patterson, Northern Ireland Secretary of State, has led some to speculate that the Pontiff wants to discuss a possible visit.
Senior sources in London insist that the visit, which will include a 20 minute meeting with Pope Benedict, is a reciprocal trip after the Holy Father's successful visit to the UK in 2010.
Primate of Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady said the inclusion of Owen Paterson in the delegation is noteworthy.
Cardinal Brady has invited the Pope to visit Ireland, north and south, to coincide with the 50th Eucharistic congress which takes place in Dublin in June.
Cardinal Brady said that while child scandals in the Catholic Church had rocked the faith of many, he believes if Benedict XVI were to come here such a visit could help the healing process.
He also acknowledged the bridges the Queen has built between Ireland and Britain with her visit last year.
Deputy Editor of the Irish Catholic, Michael Kelly, said the trip to Rome is significant.
He said: "This is a high level delegation of British government ministers going to the Vatican for these talks.
"The other ministers that are involved, the Minister for climate change, the Minister for international development, the Secretary of State for Scotland, these are issues that the Vatican are very engaged on in the international sphere.
"Mr Paterson is quite different from the others, one wouldn't imagine that he would be conventionally linked to any talks that would be going on between the British government and the Vatican so I think this is a clear indication that the Vatican want to talk, obviously about what is going on in the peace process, the developments that have been going on there.
"Benedict, since his election in 2005, has been very interested in those issues and I think the fact that Mr Paterson will be meeting with the Pope for such a long time relatively speaking, is very significant."
Michael Kelly explained that diplomatically, politicians tend to play down the likelihood of Papal visits.
"The Vatican doesn't like politicians talking up the possibility of a Papal visit, they like that to come from themselves or from senior church men in the particular host country.
"But obviously in the context of a twenty minute visit, they are going to be discussing the possibility of the Pope visiting Northern Ireland, that's very much part of the Vatican agenda.
"They see it as tying in with Benedict's very successful visit to Britain in 2010 and of course the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic last year which was so successful as well and seen by many people as clearing the way for Benedict to visit Northern Ireland, which in many ways is seen as the unfinished visit of John Paul's visit in 1979 to Ireland," he said.