'It was a day you would never forget'
IT WAS 30 years ago this month since the late Pope John Paul II made his pilgrimage to Ireland, but Wicklow's Parish Priest Fr. Tim Hannon (pictured) can still recall details of the visit as if it had only happened yesterday.
For Fr. Hannon his prevailing memory will always be the sense of 'goodwill' that surrounded the Papal visit, as the Irish nation grew increasingly excited about their special guest.
'The size of the crowds are one of the things I can vividly remember from the day.
There was a huge roar when the plane carrying him dipped over Phoenix Park. It was a wonderful occasion and there was a real goodwill feeling about the whole event. If you were there, it's a day you would never forget.'
Another thing that really sticks out in Fr. Hannon's memory is the great lengths some people went to in order to make sure they were present and accounted for on the day.
'I met these people from Swords who walked to Phoenix Park and back again. Traffic was practically at a standstill anyhow because of the size of the crowds. You had whole families getting up at 4 a.m. to walk to Phoenix Park. They would walk nine to ten miles just to make sure they didn't miss his visit. There wasn't any negativity around at the time. Instead there was this great feeling of all belonging to a bigger picture, something that was bigger than each individual.'
This sense of occasion wasn't just limited to members of the Catholic faith as well. Fr. Hannon is aware of friends and associates of his from different religions who also travelled to Phoenix Park and were every bit as excited by the visit as members of the Roman Catholic brethren. 'I know Anglicans and Protestants who also attended. There was a great comradeship and we were all happy to be there. I remember one man from the Church of Ireland telling me that we were all part of the Christian heritage. He wasn't going to miss it for anyone because we are all Christian brothers in Christ. For me that was one of the nicest parts of the day.'
Of course the most striking thing about the Mass was Pope John Paul's ability to connect with the people and the ease with which he addressed such large crowds. Old and young alike gathered and were equally enthralled by the 'presence' he so easily exuded.
'He was a wonderful man and was just so holy,' adds Fr. Hannon.
While there is no doubting Pope John Paul II has been missed since his passing in 2005, Fr. Hannon also has the experience of having rubbed shoulders with his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, then known as Joseph Ratzinger.
'It was 1968 and I had only just been recently ordained. He was visiting and giving a lecture on theology, and I have to say I was very taken by him. He mightn't be as exuberant as John Paul II but he too genuinely loves people. He is a quiet man but he has a great mind. That was obvious even from the lecture I attended.'