Pope Francis has said he will make the first papal trip to Ireland in nearly 40 years, visiting Dublin for two days later this year.

He will be in Dublin on 25 and 26 August for a church meeting on families.

The announcement, which was widely expected, has been warmly welcomed by Catholic bishops in Ireland.

The decision of the 81-year-old pontiff to visit Ireland for the three-yearly World Meeting of Families had been flagged last year by the event’s host, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

It will be the second visit by a Pope to Ireland following the visit of Saint John Paul II in the autumn of 1979, but he was unable to travel north of the border due to security concerns.

While today’s announcement does not rule out a visit to Northern Ireland in August, it mentions just two engagements that Pope Francis intends to fulfil.

The first is a visit to the ‘Festival of Families’ in Croke Park on Saturday 25 August and a mass that he will celebrate in Dublin’s Phoenix Park the next day.

It appears this evening that Pope Francis will not travel to Northern Ireland during his visit.

In a statement, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference welcomed the announcement, saying that full details of the pope’s schedule will be announced at a later date.

The World Meeting of Families is taking place in Dublin from 21 to 26 August. The pope will preside at the closing ceremonies on the final two days.

From the RTÉ Archives:

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that Pope Francis will be a welcome guest and he looked forward to greeting him during his visit.

"While it not a formal state visit, it is the visit of a head of state and the spiritual leader of one billion Catholics and millions of Catholics in this country and he is certainly a welcome guest and we look forward to greeting him during his visit," said Mr Varadkar.

He said there would be appropriate involvement of civil authorities, including security and public safety and protocol coordination.

Separately, the Association of Catholic Priests has called on Archbishop Martin to clarify why two references to non-traditional families, including LGBT households, have been dropped by the World Meeting of Families from its official material.

The archbishop introduced nine people from two Irish Catholic families to Pope Francis this morning.

But the priests' association has expressed disappointment that non-traditional families will not be represented at the Vatican event.

Archbishop Martin was accompanied by a great-grandmother, a five-year-old girl and their closest relatives when Pope Francis was given the icon depicting the Holy Family that is being used by this year's World Meeting in Dublin. 

The pontiff greeted the Tobin family group from Co Kildare and the Bushell family, all four of whom live in Rome.

But the Association of Catholic Priests said the church should have brought families with "different make-ups" to signal that August's gathering would welcome single-parent families, couples in second relationships and lesbian and gay couples with children.

However, the Irish bishops' spokesman said the programme for the Dublin meeting would reflect Pope Francis' well-documented approach of "not holding back from highlighting the joys as well as the challenges facing the modern family".

The priests' association also said Archbishop Martin had reassured it some months ago that the August gathering would welcome everybody.

However, the association said that two recent incidents seemed to contradict this.

Firstly, it criticised the World Meeting's removal of an image of a same-sex couple from an official booklet.

It also criticised this month's deletion from an official video of Los Angeles Bishop David O'Connell's conciliatory words to "all types of families," including gays and lesbians rearing children.

The World Meeting has responded that the bishop's words had been included inadvertently and that the same video still includes "powerful testimonies .... on the LGBTQ issue".

Organisers of WMF2018 have emphasised that its spirit is in keeping with Pope Francis's view that "every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration".