Pope Francis is set to be invited to Belfast, it can be revealed.
City councillors are expected to debate a motion asking the pontiff to travel north of the border if he visits the Republic of Ireland.
SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy, who tabled the proposal ahead of next week’s meeting at Belfast City Hall, said it could help send out a positive message.
He said: “A papal visit to Belfast, endorsed by everyone, would send out a strong message to the rest of the world about how we are progressing, especially after the failure of the Haass talks.”
Mr McCarthy wants the Stormont Assembly to extend a similar invitation.
The only papal visit to Ireland was in September 1979 when more than a million people turned out to see Pope John Paul II in Dublin’s Pheonix Park. A planned visit to Armagh was cancelled by the Vatican after the IRA murdered the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, and ambushed 18 soldiers a month earlier.
“Times have changed,” added Mr McCarthy. “I would love to see the pope in Belfast if he comes to Ireland.”
Last month the Seanad unanimously agreed to formally invite Pope Francis to Ireland.
Independent senator David Norris said an official state visit by the head of the Holy See would “lift the spirits” of the country.
Mr McCarthy said: “This could be the last chance for many people, myself included, to see a pope in Ireland.”
The motion is to be debated at the monthly meeting of Belfast City Council on Tuesday.
It reads: “This council notes that the Irish Seanad, on February 19, unanimously passed a motion by senator David Norris, inviting Pope Francis to visit Ireland.
“Should the Holy Father accept that invitation, this council invites him, as a man of faith, peace and reconciliation, to visit the city of Belfast and calls upon the Northern Ireland Assembly to extend a similar invitation.”