THE final decision on whether Pope John Paul will cross into Northern Ireland during his visit to Ireland next month is expected to be announced on Monday.
There is a distinct mood of optimism about a papal dash to the North among the Irish community in Rome. Mgr Eamon Marron, rector of the Irish College in Rome claimed this week that the Pope is certain to visit Northern Ireland.
He commented, "The Pope's programme is not finalised, but I am honestly certain that he will go to Armagh. The visit is very much on."
It has been suggested that the Pope will be whisked by helicopter from the grounds of the Apostolic Nunciature into the heart of Armagh city. Mgr Marron said that the favourable reaction to the prospect of a papal visit from many Ulster Protestants had prompted reconsideration of such a trip, despite the security hazards involved.
He added that the Pope had been greatly pleased by the indication that the Protestant church leaders in the North, including the Protestant Archbishops of Armagh, would welcome him in a spirit of Christian friendship.
The latest outline timetable shows that the Pope is due to arrive at Dublin airport at 10 am on Saturday, September 29, and will celebrate Mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park at 12.30.
He will fly by helicopter to a destination 'in the Armagh Archdiocese' later that day. The Irish bishops have repeated their contention that a visit to the North has not been ruled out, but that the Pope will make the decision himself. A small portion of the Armagh Archdiocese is in the republic including the town of Drogheda a venue if the decision goes against Armagh city.
In the evening the Pope will make a official call on the Irish President, Dr Hillery. On the following day he will visit Galway and say Mass at the Ballybritt racecourse for 100,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24, chosen from parishes all over Ireland.
On Sunday afternoon he will make the much-publicised visit to the shrine of Our Lady at Knock in Co Mayo and then have an official meeting with the Irish hierarchy in Dublin on that evening.
On the Monday, Pope John Paul will be flown to Limerick to celebrate another Mass before leaving for the United States. He is due to fly to Boston from Shannon airport.
Irish Helicopters will take the Pope and his party from centre to centre and on the ground he will be carried in a fleet of Granadas and two specially converted vehicles provided by the Ford company.
It is expected that the Pope will spend a considerable amount of time at each venue moving through the crowds after each liturgy celebration. He has to be in Dublin by 7.30 each evening, however, because the helicopters are not licenced to fly in the dark.