POPE Francis could make a historic visit to Britain in September to oppose extremism.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has been invited to attend an event at the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, to sign a charter against extremism that could be used in schools and faith groups worldwide.
The attendance of Pope Francis would be a momentous occasion for the 840,000 members of Scotland’s Catholic community, who welcomed his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
Pope Francis would be among various religious, diplomatic and community leaders at the event on September 23, where a 10-point declaration calling on all faiths to unite against radicalisation will be signed.
Around 150 guests are expected to attend the public conference at the School of Divinity’s Parliament Hall, the oldest building at the university.
Representatives for the Dalai Lama and retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to South Africa’s brutal -apartheid regime, are set to attend.
A spokeswoman for the Catholic Church in Scotland welcomed the invitation to Pope Francis.
“We congratulate St Andrews University for issuing this invitation and would be delighted to welcome the Holy Father to Scotland,” she said. “But we also recognise that the global popularity of Pope Francis means that he receives vastly more invites than he can possibly accept.”
Speculation that Pope Francis could make his first visit to Britain since he became the leader of the Catholic Church three years ago follows suggestions that he will visit Ireland in 2018.
Last September, Pope Francis announced at a Mass in Philadelphia in the US that the next Catholic World Meeting of Families, the world’s largest gathering of its kind, would take place in Dublin.
Staged every three years in a different location around the world, it’s assumed Pope Francis will continue the tradition of attending the gathering, which is likely to take place both in the RDS Arena and Croke Park.
Professor of Religion and Politics at St Andrews University, Mario I. Aguilar, who authored Pope Francis’ biography in 2014, is responsible for extending the invite to the Vatican.
Speaking to The Irish Post he said: “We have invited Pope Francis, and so far we have had a largely positive response. It would be a private visit for the signing of the declaration and not a pastoral visit, not a state visit.”
Having met Pope Francis on several occasions Professor Aguilar added that the Scottish people could expect to be overawed by his kind-hearted nature.
“He’s a warm, kind person, who simply behaves like a pastor will do,” he said. “He’s interested in the people, is a smiley character and has a lot of knowledge about the world and is interested in inter-faith relations.”
A spokesman at the Vatican’s Embassy in London confirmed to The Irish Post that the invitation had been passed on to the Vatican in Rome.
When contacted by The Irish Post, the Vatican could not yet confirm Pope Francis’ attendance.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI travelled to Britain for a four-day tour, which included visits to Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham.
He was the first Pope to do so since 1982, when Pope John Paul II spent six days touring Britain, greeting thousands of people across 16 different venues, becoming the first Pope to visit the region in more than 400 years.
Talk of a potential visit by Pope Francis to Britain gathered momentum last month during a television interview with his foreign secretary, Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
When asked whether the leader of the Catholic Church would consider a trip to Britain, he did not rule out the possibility.
“Never say never,” Archbishop Gallagher said. “He [Pope Francis] certainly might. I think he has enormous respect for Britain, our traditions. He seems to be really quite familiar with our literature for example and I think he likes Britain and the British as far as I can see.”