I grew up with loud booming cries of ‘No Pope here!’ and ‘ We want an end to Popery!’
I think a lot of us can look back on that now with something of a wry smile, though for sure it was not particularly funny at the time.
In 1979 when the Polish Pope, the man from behind the Iron Curtain, was telling us, the youth of Ireland, that he loved us, I was in the stand at the racecourse in Galway. Did it work?
Did we believe him? Did we feel the love? We sure did. We felt the love. We were proud. We were uplifted.
As I got up off the grass, where I had slept, or not slept, most of the night, damp, cold and stiff, the helicopter swooped downwards towards us. It was then that we saw him. He was crouched close to the window, he looked excited and happy. He was vibrant and passionate and waving at ….me, yes me. So many of us felt like that.
What cannot be denied, in the revision of time, is not only the crowds, the sheer numbers, but the amount of people who named their children after this much loved Pope. John Paul. Many forget that this combination of the names John and Paul acted as a tribute to his predecessors. Perhaps even more people forget that this was not his idea and that in fact there was a Pope John Paul before him. John Paul I.
Apart from the surge in the use of the name John Paul, the papal visit of 1979 boosted the faith life of the country and certainly engendered and galvanized at least some religious vocations, including my own. It is hard to imagine that at the time Pope John Paul was in Ireland that he had not celebrated his sixtieth birthday. Yes, he was handsome and vibrant and passionate. He was certainly passionate about Jesus. He had buckets of courage and he was prophetic. We knew he had suffered and perhaps at some level we knew he would suffer. He sure did.
That was then. This is now. Different world. Different Ireland. Different Pope.
There is no shortage of speculation about how the World Meeting of Families will go. It is good to keep reminding ourselves this is why the Pope is coming. Pope Francis is coming to Ireland to attend the World Meeting of Families. Yes I agree it would be great if he could stay a week and tour the country but the reality is he is coming to Dublin and he will be here for two days.
There are those who are fixated on numbers. How many will turn out? Turn up? Turn in? I find it hard to get excited about this. How many? Does it really matter how many? Who cares? In the gospel Jesus had big numbers but we should not forget the numbers seventy – two and twelve. Indeed on special occasions Jesus took ‘the three’ with him. Peter, James and John. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name..
A different Ireland? Yes. However I believe for all it’s change it is more spiritually hungry than ever.
A different Pope? Certainly. Now call me old fashioned but I believe this Pope is the Pope for our day. Let me put it another way I believe Francis is the choice of the Holy Spirit.
So will it be successful? How do you measure that? Numbers attending? Vocations?
I think it will be beautiful. I hope it’s really inclusive. I hope we excel ourselves as hosts known for our gracious welcome. Francis will speak to us. Francis cannot fix our Church, only we, with the Holy Spirit working with us and through us, can do that. However he can, and will inspire us. I believe he will give us renewed hope. Le cuidiu Dé I will be there, I would dearly love that you will be too.