2004-07-16 17:40:03

The Pope is to return to Ireland next year to mark the 25th anniversary of his first visit to the country, it was confirmed today.

Pope John Paul II has accepted in principle an invitation from Irish Bishops to mark the occasion.

Catholic Primate of All Ireland Dr Sean Brady, said a reply had been received from the Vatican's Secretariat of State.

"We are delighted with this response and hope that this visit will take place," he said.

The date of the visit has not yet been decided but given the 84-year-old's commitments for the remainder of the year it is understood a visit this year is unlikely.

Archbishop Brady said the programme of places to be visited had yet to be prepared and agreed.

"The visit of the Holy Father would once again be a pastoral one," he added.

"An appropriate and substantial programme of prayer, preparation and reflection is essential to ensure that the people of Ireland would gain maximum benefit from another papal visit."

He said the people of Ireland would warmly welcome a return visit from the pontiff and that a programme to mark the 25th anniversary was already scheduled for this September which includes a major celebration in Clonmacnois, Co Offaly.

"A special message from the Holy Father has been requested for the occasion and is eagerly awaited," he said.

"The celebration will evoke many wonderful memories and inspire many to do their utmost to ensure another memorable visit."

The Pope's ill health has been the subject of speculation for many weeks, leading many to suggest a return trip to Ireland would be highly unlikely.

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