I grew up in a part of the country where one of the slogans was ‘No Pope here!’ I guess I never thought I would see a day when people in this part of the country would not welcome a Pope onto Irish soil. I think for many of us that’s a tough pill to swallow. I think it is especially difficult if we were brought up to love the Pope. I think it is also difficult not to like this particular Pope. The truth is he is a very lovable Pope. Another truth is that Ireland in 2018 is a very different Ireland from what it was in 1979 when Pope John Paul II visited our country.
It would be easy to be angry with those who are unhappy with the upcoming Papal visit. How can they be so ungracious, begrudging, so disrespectful. Now whilst there may be some truth in these charges they miss a very important reality. The reality I am speaking of is the Legacy of Pain. We ignore this legacy at our peril. Yes of course, let us hope that we will not stay in pain. Pain is not our future. However there are many people who have a very deep hurt or pain, if not born of the Church, then it is certainly associated with the Church. This is a particular type of pain. It is not the only pain. Whether or not we accept this, it may in fact not be the worst pain in the world. So much of this is irrelevant. When we are in pain, we are in pain, who cares whether it’s the worst pain in the world? If we are in pain then we want it to go away.
Whilst the level of pain may not be the most important question it does in fact matter who caused the pain. It is hard to imagine the depth and the relentlessness of pain when it is caused by someone we love. Say for example our Dad, or a close family member. Not only does this pain hurt the individual it wreaks havoc within the family in which it occurs. When the pain is caused by the Church, especially if the pain is inflicted on someone who loves the Church, then that hurt runs deep and represents a particular type of betrayal.
For those hurt by the Church the papal visit can present a very real emotional challenge. The degree that this hurt can be exacerbated or minimized is something we in the Church can exert some control over. There is in my view a delicate balance to be sought. The particular gift of the Holy Spirit necessary for this difficult task is prudence. How do we avoid causing further hurt or suffering and at the same time rejoice not only in the wonderful Meeting of Families and the presence of the Holy Father but also in the Good News of Jesus Christ?
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have no difficulty criticising the Church when it is warranted but a question has been coming up for me in recent days. I think the catalyst for the question was the Minister for Health’s tweet in response to the Bishop of Elphin’s address at a recent conference. Commenting on the Bishops remarks which were marking fifty years of Humane Vitae, the Minister tweeted ‘please make it stop’. Now I am not too sure what is meant to stop, but if the Minister wants Catholic Bishops to stop fearlessly preaching the Gospel truth, as Kevin Doran was doing in the context of a Catholic conference, then I hope and pray he will have a long wait. In the new liberal Ireland I find myself beginning to wonder, will it be ok to be Catholic? It seems that in the New Ireland one of the main things we will have to safeguard is religious freedom.
I hope we can give Pope Francis a genuine warm céad míle fáilte without any trace of arrogance or triumphalism. I hope we can listen to him with open hearts; he is after all, the divinely appointed Successor of Peter. That’s what we Catholics believe. His papacy has been warm and compassionate and has often stepped back from harsh judgement. With humour he has recommended to us how we might use our power. Poignantly he has reminded us that our call is to serve. I believe, in his heart Pope Francis comes to serve. I also believe that his presence amongst us will be a time of special grace for all who have the courage and humility to open their hearts to a new fresh experience of Jesus.