Dear friends. This Sunday is a historic day in the history of the Irish Church. For only the second time, a Pope has been welcomed to Ireland and today/tomorrow he will celebrate Mass with an estimated crowd of half a million in the Phoenix Park in Dublin to conclude the World Meeting of Families.
In his homily here at the Cathedral on Tuesday evening during the opening liturgy for the World Meeting of Families, Bishop Denis compared the visit of Pope John Paul in 1979 to the visit of Pope Francis in 2018. He spoke about the situation in Ireland the time of the late seventies that was frought politically and economically very challenged. Lord Mount Batten had just been killed in Sligo, the Warrenpoint massacre had just occurred and we were struggling with unemployment and emigration. Into this situation came Pope John Paul II with a presence, a calm and with words that gave hope for peace and for the future. Despite the challenges in Ireland, the position of the Church in Ireland that time seemed to be strong. All appeared to be well.
With the benefit of hindsight almost 40 years later, we know that all was far from well. The externals masked serious problems. No one could have imagined the trauma of what was to come and the changes that would take place over the next four decades. Therefore, the Ireland Pope Francis comes to is a very different place to the one in 1979. The Irish Church he comes to is very different as well. There will be fewer numbers which will receive comment but is really of little importance. What is of importance is that Pope Francis is coming to a wounded Church whose place in society is far less certain than it was in 1979, having been displaced from the centre to somewhere more peripheral. What matters is that Pope Francis is also coming to a Church that is more authentic and human. Our hope is that he, as successor of St Peter will strengthen us in our faith at this challenging time. This was the Lord’s command to Peter – that after he had recovered from his own sin that he would ‘in his turn, strengthen your brothers and sisters’ (Luke 22:32). This is what Pope Francis has come here for – to strengthen and affirm us as universal shepherd of the Church.
In this light, perhaps this is the right time for him to come and walk among us. Perhaps now is the time when we need him, to strengthen and support us. For as Bishop Denis said on Tuesday, if we were to wait until we were the perfect Church then a Pope’s visit would never take place.
Together as God’s family in the Church here in Ireland, we join with Pope Francis today in professing our common faith in the Lord Jesus and joining him in the words of the first reading today: ‘We have no intention of deserting the Lord our God and serving other gods…we too will serve the Lord for he is our God’.
May the visit of Pope Francis be a time of healing and renewal for the Irish Church and for us all. May it also be a time of healing – that anyone who has been hurt by the Church might find in his presence and his words something that gives hope and communicates the Pope’s great love for those on the margins. Amen.