KNOCK — When Pope Francis lands in Dublin on Saturday morning, he will encounter a land much changed from the one that gave predecessor John Paul II a euphoric welcome nearly four decades ago. “Devotion was at its peak, there were around 450,000 people here in Knock to see the pope,” said Bernard Byrne, 74, sitting inside his souvenir shop next to the parish church in Knock, a village in the west of Ireland. Behind him loomed statues of the Virgin Mary and framed photos of Francis, who will visit the Catholic pilgrimage site on Sunday, emulating John Paul II.
DERRY — In his first public interview since the Irish Republican Army (IRA) vowed to end its armed campaign in July, hardline Protestant unionist leader Ian Paisley on Sunday gave a positive assessment of the troubled region’s political future and said he would agree to meet the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Speaking to Irish state broadcaster RTE, Paisley said he believed peace in Ireland was possible in his lifetime. Paisley – the leader of Northern Irelands largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – has long been an ardent opponent of Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland, and of the Catholic Church. He is now the leading political voice in pro-British unionism in Northern Ireland Paisley, who opposes the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended the over 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, went on to say he was willing to meet the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady. Paisley’s political opposition to Irish nationalism has been influenced heavily by his religious opposition to Catholicism.