Sarah MacDonald: Pope John Paul's visit will stay with me forever
Published 28/09/2015 | 02:30
Pope Francis is to visit Ireland. This is the greatest possible boon to an Irish church wounded and chastened by the clerical child-abuse scandals.
Once the jewel in the Catholic crown, the Irish church has for some time been a matter of concern for the Vatican. These days, it is struggling against the tide of secularism as Mass attendances and vocations continue to plummet.
In Knock at the weekend, recalling the way things were around the time of Pope John Paul's visit, Archbishop Eamon Martin asked: "Could we ever have imagined 35 years ago that so much change would happen so quickly, especially to the role and standing of the church in the lives, homes, communities and thinking of the Irish people?"
The faithful who will greet Pope Francis will have a very different outlook to those who welcomed Pope John Paul II in 1979. While we are unlikely to see the phenomenal numbers that thronged the Phoenix Park, Drogheda, Limerick, Galway and Knock, Francis's charisma and evident faith will still ensure a massive response.
This is a pope who continues to win friends and popularity as his papacy goes on.
I distinctly remember the visit of Pope John Paul II. I was an 11-year-old girl guide corralled along with my troop into a space reserved for scouts and girl guides to the left of the altar in Drogheda.
As the clunky popemobile made its way past our section, I clearly remember the joy in the face of John Paul II. So charismatic.
That day, Pope John Paul II's deep resonant voice boomed out over 300,000 people in Co Louth as he implored the paramilitaries to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace. That will stay with me forever.
On a micro scale, people's goodwill and kindness were also memorable.
The Pope was in Drogheda because he could not go north of the Border due to the Troubles.
Most church people in Ireland would like to see a papal visit to the six counties but that will depend on Francis's schedule.
This elderly spiritual leader will not undertake a visit on the scale of John Paul II in 1979. It will be short. Perhaps like Pope Benedict's visit to Britain in 2010.
He flew into Scotland and headed down to London, so Armagh and Dublin may be on Francis' destinations.
Gerard Gallagher is a father of four who was involved in organising the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012 and the National Eucharistic Congress in Knock at the weekend.
He was 10 when John Paul visited and his family travelled to Knock from Strabane for the occasion.
He recalls: "I remember it distinctly. It was hugely important not just for me but for the whole Irish church."
He believes Pope Francis, due to his broad appeal to believers and non-believers alike, will be widely welcomed throughout Ireland and predicts that the Pontiff will rally the church in the North and South of the island.