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Pope Francis met on Friday with Irish bishops who are in Rome this week on their ad limina visits – the first such visit since 2006. Following the encounter, which lasted for over two hours, some of the bishops came to Vatican Radio to share their impressions and to talk about the most significant challenges facing their Church today. Less than half of the bishops meeting with Pope Francis on Friday had been on an ad limina visit before. Yet all of them were clearly impressed by the level of openness and dialogue they discovered in all the offices of the Roman Curia and particularly in their closed door, informal and unscripted conversation with the Pope. Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh is president of the Irish bishops conference: “He said at the beginning, ‘I’ll throw in the ball and let’s see what happens’, so it turned out to be a conversation about the Church in Ireland, about the struggles and challenges we’re having, but also about the importance of a ministry of presence, a ministry of the ear, where we’re listening to the hopes, struggles and fears of our people….” Featuring high on the agenda were discussions about the family and about the need to reach out to young people, especially those whose faith has been shattered by the numerous sex abuse scandals. As the bishops were meeting with the Pope in Rome, a new report was being published in Belfast about abuse cases and the bishops pledged their full cooperation in order to support victims and ensure the highest standards of child protection throughout the Church. During their meetings the bishops said they spoke frankly of problems such as poverty and homelessness, the current political crisis in Northern Ireland, but also concerns about the place of women in the Catholic Church today, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin explained: “No subject was off the agenda….Pope Francis again said to talk about our experiences, our challenges, our criticisms….One theme that came up on numerous occasions was the position of women in the Church, we brought it up in almost every congregation we went to and there was a willingness to listen and a recognition that we were asking a valid question, because the Irish episcopal conference is quite concerned about that theme” The bishops said they also talked about preparations for the World Meeting of Families which will take place in Dublin next year, adding that they discussed with Pope Francis the possibility of his visit to Ireland for the occasion, a first papal trip there since Pope John Paul travelled to the country, back in 1979.