Britain’s ambassador to the Vatican has said a visit by Pope Francis to the North would offer a powerful boost to reconciliation.
Nigel Baker told The Irish Catholic: “I personally agree very much with the Taoiseach that a visit to Ireland should be a visit to the Republic of Ireland and to Northern Ireland.”
Two months ago Britain’s Secretary of State for the North Theresa Villiers told the House of Commons that a papal visit to the North “would be a very positive step” after the unionist parties on Belfast City Council declined to support a motion inviting the Pontiff.
Mr Baker said that against the background of developments in the North and ever deepening British Irish relations since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement such a visit would be “very powerful”.
“With Her Majesty coming to the Republic of Ireland and then the first State visit of the President [to Britain] we are getting to a moment where we can say yes, now is the time for a papal visit and I think it would be a natural next step were the Holy See to favour that. When it might happen I don’t know but I think it would be a wonderful thing.”
He appeared to caution against expectations of an early visit by pointing out that for a Pope who “is not a great traveller” his schedule “looks pretty busy for the next year or two”.
Mr Baker also welcomed plans by the Irish Government to re-open an embassy to the Vatican.
“I am delighted I am going to have a resident Irish colleague back again. It has been a little bit odd as a British ambassador to be here at the Holy See without having an Irish colleague to consult occasionally,” Mr Baker said.