At one time, you couldn’t get a more staunchly Catholic government than Ireland’s. But last November it surprised many by deciding to close its embassy to the Holy See in Rome, ostensibly for economic reasons, though the underlying motives appear more political and ideological.

Now a grassroots campaign is hoping to overturn the decision, and it’s proving to be considerably successful. Called “Ireland Stand Up” , the movement is calling on the Irish Government to re-open its embassy to the Holy See, reinstate its resident ambassador, and invite Pope Benedict XVI to visit their country. The movement received the backing of the Holy Father who, in a letter sent in January, said he “very much appreciates the sentiments of this thoughtful gesture.”

Sixteen representatives of the movement, together with their children, travelled to Rome this week, and today – on the feast of Saint Patrick – re-issued the call in front of Villa Spada, the former Irish embassy to the Holy See in Rome, now Ireland’s embassy to Italy.

Anne Long, a mother of four and secondary school teacher in Dublin, is the inspiration behind the movement. Another of its leaders is university lecturer Mary Fitzgibbon who issued a statement on behalf of the group outside the front gates of the villa this afternoon.

“We are in times when some in our government used the day of St. Patrick not to preach the Gospel but to preach the economic values of trading with us,” Fitzgibbon said. “Human rights can be disregarded for the economic good of the country. We are being sold out by pure governance and now our souls are being sold too. As our wares are being touted around the world, perhaps we should pause for a moment.”

She added: “At what cost is the gospel of economics being preached? Our embassy was taken from us as it yielded “no economic return”. What will be next? We respectfully call on this government to stop using our Catholic faith as a bargaining tool when it suits. We call on them to respect our religious beliefs and our rights to our traditions and practices. We call for our embassy to be reopened and a return of our resident ambassador. We call for respectful dialogue between Church and State, and for the government to respect the wishes of the laity.”

Fitzgibbon, a lecturer at the Institute of Technology in Tralee, County Kerry, concluded: “We are all concerned about the recovery of our country, from both an economic an personal perspective, so that we can regain a sense of hope and belief about our future. We invite people to hold a Vigil of Hope on 17th April and to pray for peace and the future of our country, Ireland.”

Ireland continues to have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, which have existed since 1929, and the Villa Spada was the seat of its embassy for 65 years until the Dublin government decided to close it on November 3rd, 2011.

Many believe the principal reason was more political than economic, and that it was led by an anti-Catholic and anti-God faction in the ruling party who took populist advantage of the anger felt towards the Irish hierarchy over its poor handling of the clerical sex abuse crisis.

The Irish government has said it will review its decision and many are confident that a resident ambassador will be reinstalled, although it’s said to be unlikely the Villa Spada will return to being the seat of Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See.