A west Belfast priest described an audience with the pope in Rome this week as “very moving”.
Father Martin Magill, parish priest at St John’s Church on Falls Road, praised Pope Francis for his “down to earth” nature.
Fr Magill and Presbyterian minister Reverend Steve Stockman, who is based at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in south Belfast, had been invited to the Vatican to celebrate a festival they co-created, which marked its 10th birthday this year.
The 4 Corners Festival seeks to inspire people across Belfast to transform it for the peace and well-being of all.
The festival offers innovative events designed to draw people out of their own “corners” of the city and into new places where they will meet new perspectives, new ideas and make new friends.
In Rome, Father Magill and Reverend Stockman were part of a larger delegation from Belfast made up of members of the Catholic Chaplaincy team at Queen’s University, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and a number of students.
Speaking to The Irish News, Fr Magill said the audience with the pontiff had been “a beautiful experience”.
The cleric said that upon arriving, Pope Francis greeted everyone before taking a seat among them.
“He said ‘I have an address written here but I’m not going to read it. You can read it yourself later. Let’s have a chat. Would you like to ask me a few questions?’
Father Magill said the QUB students were able to question the pope on a variety of questions, including his own student years, which he answered with a “beautiful sense of humour”.
“He spoke about the value of the lives we lead,” he said.
“He encouraged them to have a good sense of humor in the joy of their faith and to really witness it.
“He had a nice suggestion that they would have a copy of the gospels in their pocket. A small copy.
“He then naturally moved into the realm of ecumenism and he spoke about the importance of recognizing that other Christians of other denominations are really helping us in this mission of sharing the gospel today.
“He talked about his own experience growing up and I found that very moving. The first ecumenical word he heard was from his grandmother.
“He was talking about the value of people of different faiths practicing together, working together, witnessing together, getting involved in acts of charity.”
Father Magill said some of the QUB students then sang an Irish blessing for the pope and at the end of the gathering the pontiff asked them to perform again.
Father Magill said he found the audience with the Pope “very moving on many levels.”
“I loved the relaxed atmosphere of it,” he said.
“Pope Francis made us feel very comfortable.
“I loved that the students were able to ask questions and when the pope spoke about his own experience, his humorous way of talking about his university life and his grandmother.
“He was very humble and down to earth. It was a great experience.”