First of all…I didn’t go. I was covering GAA matches on Saturday and Sunday, and even if that wasn’t the case, I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway. In 1979 we left Roscommon at 2 am to go to Ballybrit Racecourse to see John Paul 11 – but then again almost everyone in the country went to see him all those years ago.
I did watch as much of the visit as I could. As will be the case for many people, there are a range of conflicting emotions to deal with as I look back on what was a very important weekend for our country and for the Catholic Church in particular.
On a human level, Pope Francis comes across as a humble, caring and pleasant man. He seemed relaxed and ‘at home’ as he met with so many people and attended so many different events. However, the Ireland that he visited last weekend is a totally different country to the one that John Paul 11 visited in 1979.
There is a huge cohort of our population who are very angry and disillusioned with the Church and with what they got away with in this country and indeed all over the world for many decades. These people feel that Pope Francis did not go far enough at the weekend in his various speeches about Church scandals. The Pope apologised a number of times, but, in the eyes of many, he made no commitment to any action or redress. It’s easy to understand the anger and resentment of people who were abused. People who were scandalised and abused want all those who were responsible for cover-ups in the Church to be sacked – and who can blame them?
It’s hard to believe that Pope Francis never heard of the Magdalene Laundries or indeed of the Tuam Babies scandal. Is it that the Pope is so protected in the Vatican that a lot of these horrible stories have been kept from him? If that is the case, then there needs to be a root and branch clear-out at the very top in Rome. Pope Francis needs to know and understand what happened in these truly horrific cases.
Last week I attempted to read the Special Prosecutor’s Report in Pennsylvania into child sexual abuse in the Church there over many decades. I defy anyone reading this article to read that recently-published report and not get physically sick. The levels of depravity which were perpetrated by members of the clergy on innocent children is beyond any kind of explanation. It was vile and stomach-churning. Anyone who covered this abuse up is equally as guilty as the disgusting deviants that carried it out.
The worrying thing about all this is that there is much more to come. Wait until they get to Central and South America, and to Africa too. The Church is facing decades more of these allegations. But if it faces up to the problem with truth and action, then most fair-minded people will give Church leaders credit. This Pope and future Popes will have to deal with this issue for many years to come because it is not going to go away.
Having said all of the above, I am very conscious of the hundreds of thousands of people who derived great spiritual comfort and joy from the visit of Pope Francis. So what if there were only 150,000 people at the Mass on Sunday. I spoke to many who attended the various events in Croke Park, Knock and the Phoenix Park. They really enjoyed their day and the experience, and who are the media or anyone else to scoff at them? The excitement etched on the faces of the people in Knock as they waited in the cold rain for a glimpse of Pope Francis is something that I will always remember. Whether some people like it or not, there are still many devout Catholics in our country, and they deserve respect too. The Church is about the people and their faith in God.
It is also a fact that there are many great priests (and clergy generally) who continue to carry out fantastic work on behalf of their communities throughout Ireland and the world. It is such a pity that their great work has been overshadowed by the curse of abuse and corruption. Last weekend was a great cause for celebration for them too.
There were many memorable moments captured by RTE’s excellent coverage. The visit of the Pope to Brother Kevin Crowley’s soup kitchen in Dublin, the selfie taken by a young member of the travelling community in Croke Park, the Pope signing a Mayo football jersey, and his obvious joy at meeting ordinary people at all the events he attended was remarkable.
The visit was very well organised. Well done to everyone concerned. A huge logistical operation, it went off very well. I know it cost over €30 million, but it brought the eyes of the world on our small country. I’m glad Pope Francis saw fit to visit Ireland. It has generated a lot of debate about who we are as a people and where we are going. That in itself is a good thing.
It’s odds-on that I will not be around when the next Pope chooses to visit us here. So I wish Pope Francis well in the tough job that he has on his hands.
I wonder if he has lifted the curse from the Mayo footballers? Now that would be a miracle!