When the then Pope visited Ireland in 1979, the entire population got the ‘good china’ out. This time it was different. Some people were as enthusiastic now as then; many more were indifferent, at best mildly curious; a small but significant number were critical/even hostile.
The current Pope is, by and large, very popular. His personal charisma and humility were much in evidence over the weekend, but the fact remains that he is the leader of the Catholic Church at a time of deep crisis within it, and it falls to Francis to address historic and ongoing abuse scandals.
The shadow of the scandals follows him, and the world looks to him…
By the time I tuned in to the television coverage, Pope Francis was sitting on a stage in Dublin Castle and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in full flow. I missed most of the Taoiseach’s speech but have caught up with it since, and I would certainly go along with the positive reaction to it.
Readers are being disingenuous if they deny that there was a certain fascination in trying to spot just who was in the audience. The RTE camera zoomed in on Mary McAleese, who did not appear to be planning to storm the stage. Colm O’Gorman had to settle for a spot near the back.
I’m not sure what the term is for a collection of ex-Taoisigh (mind your language!) but they were there…
The ex-Taoisigh wear the contented expressions of men who have climbed to the top of the mountain, but with enough melancholy there to reflect the sense of being yesterday’s news. At best, they are the rock stars who once sold out top stadiums and who are now reduced to ‘intimate venues’.
Simon Harris had the smile of a man who has momentum, a man who suspects he has a very bright future ahead. Micheál Martin had the half-smile of a man who is less sure of his political future; he might also have been hoping that photographers didn’t capture him alone in conversation with Brian Cowen, the latter a decent man but a symbol of the crash and the smithereens that followed…(which reminds me, Bertie was there too).
Later on Saturday
The ceremony at the Pro-Cathedral, if clearly very scripted, was quite inspiring. This Pope does have a gentle charisma that is very special, not to mention a great smile! When he reached the front pews of the Pro-Cathedral, he singled out a woman who appeared to be in a wheelchair, and gave her a blessing. Then, after some moments of silent prayer, the Pope heard from a handful of married couples. Responding to them, he took up where the late, great Les Dawson left off, i.e. with a mother-in-law joke.
The Pope quipped that young couples should listen to the wisdom of elderly parents “even mothers-in-law”.
All weekend, his humour, ordinariness and common touch was engaging.
Later, another highlight of the Papal visit was the Pope calling to the Caphucin Day Centre in Dublin, where Brother Kevin and his colleagues (and volunteers) serve up to 800 meals a day to people who are homeless and/or in need. The humility of Brother Kevin, clearly a ‘living saint’ to all he has helped, was itself humbling to witness.
As the Pope left in his Skoda, a few women standing outside sang the ‘anthem’ that followed Pope John Paul 11 around in 1979 – ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ – they were small in number and tentative in their singing, unwittingly only serving to highlight how much has changed.
Granted, I’m no singing expert, but I thought poor Daniel blew his big moment and was OUT OF TUNE when he sang for the Pope in Croke Park tonight.
“You had one job to do, Daniel…”
Still, Daniel enjoyed himself, and the crowd seemed to love him too. So he remains a national treasure.
I understand, from people who were present, that the concert in Croke Park was an immensely enjoyable evening. Andrea Bocelli was the star turn of the night (apart from the Pope). Some children from Roscommon performed (as part of Edwina Guckian’s Dance Club), as did Scramogue native Cathy Jordan, the renowned singer.
Another weekend highlight – a great moment, midst all the words and debates – came when Alison Nevin (12) got the ultimate selfie…with Pope Francis. Croke Park erupted, reminiscent of how it might when a team scores a last-minute winner.
Knock was a very joyous part of the weekend, going by the television coverage. Rain and heavy mist greeted the Pope’s plane. Pope Francis shook hands with almost the entire welcoming party at the airport, a really nice ‘human’ touch. In the background, Ballaghaderreen native Patsy McGarry, the Irish Times Religious Affairs Correspondent, followed the entourage, clicking away on his phone. At the Knock Shrine, enthusiastic crowds welcomed the Pope. It was a very historic and special day for Mayo and the West of Ireland.
The Festival of Families Mass in the Phoenix Park was only a ‘full house’ in Donald Trump/Sean Spicer speak. In fairness, no-one is claiming that the expected “up to 500,000 people” materialised. There is of course plenty of bickering on social media about the turnout. Most observers are now settling on anything between 130,000-200,000.
I watched quite a bit of the RTE coverage from the Phoenix Park and have spoken to family and friends who were there. The Pope began his address by asking for forgiveness for Church sins, to applause.
Later, the Popemobile brought The Holy Father to a final meeting with bishops, then to Dublin Airport for his return to Rome.
As I drove from Rooskey to Roscommon on Sunday evening, the postmortems were in full flow on radio, Joe Duffy hosting.
Joe was on the same job again that night on RTE television. There are, suffice to say, conflicting views on the trip and on how satisfactorily or otherwise Pope Francis addressed the Church scandals.
As a man, Pope Francis is very charismatic, humble and likeable. We can really only judge what we see and hear. Much of what he said was inspirational and will have proven so for many people. Of course the shadows of scandal loom large. And, charismatic and humble or not, it is this Pope’s duty to show leadership on addressing the challenges facing the Church. I was glad he told single mothers who searched for the children they had become estranged from that it was not a mortal sin to do so. Pity this wasn’t made clear decades ago. It was good too that Pope Francis met with abuse survivors. But calling for forgiveness for the sins of people in the Church, while welcome, is far from enough. What is really needed is for guilty parties – abusers and Church leaders who covered up for them – to be removed from their positions and indeed to be handed over to police/state authorities. There should be no hiding place, no ‘canon law’ veil.
It was a historic weekend. A changing Ireland gave a mostly positive, but undoubtedly nuanced, welcome to Pope Francis. Time will tell if he has the energy, time and determination to address the scandals’ fall-out. His ‘track record’ in so many other areas is impressive. His humility is genuine, his words inspiring. I think, on balance, he offers real hope for a Church in crisis.
Back at Dublin Airport, RTE had a great shot of the Papal plane disappearing into the clouds.
Clouds and shadows…the humble man with the whole world in his hands was gone into the clouds, out of sight for a while, but with the whole world watching his next moves.