In 1979, Shay and I took David to see the Pope in the Phoenix Park – a great community expedition. I’m not sure how much religious fervor was involved but as it was probably going to be a once off event, I wanted my one-year-old to be able to say he was there! (I must root out the one or two photos of the Pope-mobile taken from a distance). Walking posed no problem then and we joined the throngs marching from Lucan with our picnics, rugs and rain gear. I still remember the excitement of seeing the 15 acres sectioned by barriers and overlooked by the massive Papal Cross, the buzz as Pope John Paul II landed and toured between the corals, waving and blessing, and the high as we walked home through the Strawberry Beds.
This time I was going for me. However the task was gargantuan as there were going to me massive traffic restrictions and lots of walking, prohibitive to my level of mobility. Luckily ‘the sister’ had ordered tickets and was as interested as me in attending. The fact she lived ‘just over the wall’ from the site meant that she could provide accommodation and ‘push-power’ if I could access a mode of transport. Limited mobility is not how I had envisaged my retirement years – you should have seen my bucket list for traveling – but I’ve learned to put a brave face on it and if I had to swallow pride and take to a wheelchair to get there – so be it.
I think all the church bashing that went on during the weeks before the visit cemented my resolve. Joe’s, Ray’s and other’s dismissal of my faith and their encouragement to jeer and make little of my beliefs really irked me. Certainly there have been awful crimes perpetrated by the church, but other agencies played a role too –state, state agencies and families are not blameless.
There was little discussion on the amazing work also done by the church – Pope Francis’ visit to the Capuchin Day Centre on Saturday was an acknowledgement of that. For all the years I worked in Catholic schools I saw the kindness and assistance that was given by nuns and priests to many hardship cases. I also knew the personnel comfort my faith and people of faith gave me in time of loss, fear and illness. I think the Knock visit on Sunday morning was the most stunning example of faith – people standing for hours in the rain, filled with joy to see this leader.
Pope Francis is certainly charismatic. He is renowned for his work among the poor of Argentina and has a lot to say about human rights and compassion. He has a huge job ahead of him addressing the crimes and the cover-ups. Of course, I would like to see women with a more influential role in the church – but I think it will happen if enough strong women campaign and certainly their presence at the governing table will bring massive change to attitudes.
So what was it like – amazing, moving, inspirational? Yes – all of that! It was wonderful to be part of the experience with hundreds of others, some just there for the spectacle but all there to see a great man and share a celebration. The weather was dreadful and certainly dissuades many. But our Croke Park ponchos kept us dry. There were miles to walk but as a seated traveler, I certainly couldn’t complain. We joined in with the prayers and hymns – would have loved if there had been more that I knew. We thought the Pope would pass closer to us but we did see him in the distance.
I’ll probably never get a chance like this again – so I was thrilled that I made it.