Arlene Foster has said “of course” she would meet Pope Francis if he comes to Northern Ireland.
The leader of the once-staunchly anti-papist Democratic Unionists, said she understood the significance of such a visit but cautioned against premature excitement.
She said: “I note the Vatican did indicate that they don’t confirm visits until six months before any such visit were to take place,” she said. “I think there has been a lot of excitement by some people but we will have to wait and see if that occurs.
“If it does occur, and if he comes as a guest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the head of state, of course I will meet him as the head of the Northern Ireland Executive along with the Deputy First Minister.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed Pope Francis would travel to Ireland in August 2018 after a 23-minute meeting with him in the Vatican on Monday morning.
Pope John Paul II was unable to cross the border into Northern Ireland, where he wanted to visit Armagh, during the last papal visit to Ireland in 1979.
Instead, amid a welter of security fears and cross-community tensions, he travelled as far as Drogheda, just south of the border, where he addressed hundreds of thousands, including many from Northern Ireland.
Several years later, former DUP leader Ian Paisley was thrown out of the Strasbourg Parliament for heckling the pontiff while unfolding a poster declaring the Pope to be the anti-Christ.
Picture: Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster. (Jonathan Brady/PA).