ROME – Pope Francis has confirmed he plans a brief trip to Ireland in August to attend a big Catholic family rally.
Francis made the long-awaited announcement at the end of his weekly general audience Wednesday, saying he intends to go to Dublin Aug. 25-26 for the World Meeting of Families. He made no mention of an oft-rumored stop in Northern Ireland.
Two Irish families at the audience presented the pope with the official World Meeting of Families 2018 Icon of the Holy Family, accompanied by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.
Blessings and good wishes to the Tobin family from @newbridgeparish who are honoured today by presenting the @WMOF2018 icon to @Pontifex at today’s audience in St. Peter’s Square. A great honour for @KANDLEi @BrendaDrumm pic.twitter.com/BotJnfPpa5
— Bishop Denis Nulty (@BishopDNulty) March 21, 2018
It will be the first papal trip to Ireland since the explosion of cases of clerical sex abuse devastated the Catholic Church’s moral authority in the once staunchly Catholic country.
In recent years, Ireland has legalized gay marriage over the Church’s objections, and this spring is due to hold a referendum on overturning a constitutional ban on abortion.
St. John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979.
Held every three years, the World Meeting of Families brings together families from across the world to celebrate, pray and reflect upon the central importance of marriage and the family in society and the Church.
Francis attended the 2015 event, which took place in Philadelphia.
The Dublin organizers have come under fire from gay rights groups for removing references to homosexual relationships in conference promotional materials.
The meeting is the first since Francis issued his controversial document Amoris Laetitia – “The Joy of Love” – which urged the Church to better accompany “non-traditional” families, including those who have divorced or gay children.
Organizers have said the document, which contained a cautious opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, will be the main reference point for discussion at the rally’s workshops and events.
While in Ireland, Francis is likely to also face scrutiny over his handling of the sex abuse scandal, and will be under pressure to meet with survivors as he has done in the U.S., Chile and at the Vatican.
Ireland’s bishops’ conference issued a statement saying the visit by Francis will be “an occasion of spiritual renewal for our laity, religious and clergy as well as a strengthening of Christian family life.”
“We are deeply honored that Pope Francis will come to our country to participate in this universal Church celebration of faith and joy, as well as of the contemporary challenges which face families. With great anticipation we also look forward to hearing the apostolic guidance of His Holiness during his stay with us,” the statement said.
Crux staff contributed to this report.