Page last updated at 07:09 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 08:09 UK

Pope Benedict XVI 'may visit NI'

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI is to visit the UK in 2010

There is a strong possibility that the Pope may visit Northern Ireland next year, the BBC has learned.

On Wednesday, news broke that Pope Benedict XVI is to travel to the UK for the first papal visit since 1982.

The BBC's Rome correspondent David Willey said there were "strong indications" the trip would include a visit to Northern Ireland.

However, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Ireland dismissed it as "pure speculation".

Martin Long from Catholic Communications Office said there had been no confirmation of such a visit from official church sources.

Michael Kelly, Deputy Editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper said he thought a Northern Ireland leg of a UK visit was highly unlikely because the church in Ireland organises on a 32 county basis.

"The papal nuncio in Dublin takes responsibility for Northern Ireland rather than the papal nuncio in London," he said.

"The majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland would have nationalist sensibilities.

"The Vatican are certainly not going to do anything which would the offend those sensibilities, for example tagging on a visit to Northern Ireland which would exclude the Republic would seem to me to be extremely insensitive."

The 30th anniversary of the last papal visit to the Republic of Ireland will be marked this weekend.

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