Saturday 10 December 2016

'Ireland is a very different place and the Church is humbler and less arrogant'

Sarah MacDonald

Published 29/11/2016 | 02:30

Pope John Paul II in the Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1979. Photo: PA
Pope John Paul II in the Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1979. Photo: PA

The World Meeting of Families is one of the Catholic Church's biggest gatherings. It is held every three years at a different location around the world, and last year Pope Francis announced that he had chosen Dublin to be the next venue.

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The Catholic faithful attend this event in their tens of thousands from every corner of the globe. Logistically, it will be harder to plan for this papal visit than it was for the last one in 1979. Forty years ago, Ireland was the jewel in the Catholic crown in Europe. There was no real vocations crisis, the clerical abuse scandals had yet to erupt and aggressive secularism was something people linked with Communist Russia, not Mother Ireland.

A massive turnout was guaranteed for John Paul II, who was the first ever pope to visit Ireland. The main challenge then was catering for numbers such as the 1.25 million who turned up in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Security was another major issue, as the Troubles raged. The planned visit to the North, as we know, had to be shelved as the Pope's security couldn't be guaranteed, and so he went to Drogheda instead.

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