The Pope’s visit to Ireland

30 November, 1999

The transcript of a 3R Productions Radio programme recounting the Pope’s visit to Ireland in September 1979.

Over the past 26 years, over 17 million people from all over the world have made the pilgrimage to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to join the late Pope John Paul II, the 263rd successor of St. Peter for Mass and prayers.  There they experienced the Holy Father, surrounded by the magnificent splendour at the largest and most famous mediaeval basilica in Christandom.  They experienced the papal entourage of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, the Palestrina choirs, the papal diplomatic corps, and an endless line of other pilgrims from all over the world.

During these audiences, the Holy Father preached in many languages. He was truly their international Supreme Pontiff and an unparallelled international political and social leader. 

In September 1979, Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit Ireland.  He came with messages that were tailor-made to our needs. He spoke to us in English and Irish.

On that first day, September 29th, in the Phoenix Park, he met over one million people, the largest gathering of Irish people in history. He told the people why he felt called to visit Ireland and the Irish.  He reminded us how St Patrick heard the “voice of the Irish” and came to help us. So did he.

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, Like St. Patrick, I too have heard “the voice of the Irish” calling to me, and so I have come to you, to all of you in Ireland. From the very beginning of it’s faith, Ireland has been linked with the Apostolic Sea of Rome.  The early records attest that your first bishop, Palladius, was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine; and that Patrick, who succeeded Paladius,  was “confirmed in the faith” by Pope Leo Great.

Your people have spread this love for the Catholic Church everywhere they went, in every century of your history.  This has been done by the earliest monks and the missionaries of Europe’s Dark Ages, by the refugees from persecution, by the exiles and by the missionaries men and women of the last century and this one.

Celebrating a Papal Mass for the first time on Irish soil, the Holy Father told the people how excited he was to be here in Ireland and reminded us of our historical devotion to the Mass.

I am living a moment of intense emotion.  As I stand here, in the company of so many hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women.  I am thinking of how many times, across how many centuries, the Eucharist has been celebrated.  How many and varied the places where the Masses have been offered, in stately mediaeval and in splendid modern cathedrals, in early monastic and in Modern Churches; at Mass rock in the glens and forests by hunted priests, in poor thatched-covered chapels, for a people poor in worldly goods but rich in the things of the Spirit., in “wake houses” or “station houses” or at great open-air hostings of the faithful – on top of Croagh Patrick and at Lough Derg.

Today I wish to express the gratitude of Jesus Christ and his Church for the devotion Ireland has shown to the Holy Eucharist.  As Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ, I assure you that the Mass is indeed the source and summit of your own Christian life.

Addressing the youth in Galway on the following day he told them of his faith in Irish youth, his hopes for them and the future of Ireland.

I believe in youth with all my heart and all the strength of my conviction.  And today I say: I believe in the youth of Ireland.  I believe in you who stand here before me, in every one of you.  When I look at you, I see the  Ireland of the future.  Tomorrow you will be the living force of your country, you will decide what Ireland will be.  Tomorrow, as technicians or teachers, nurses or secretaries, farmers or tradesmen, doctors or engineers, priests or religious – tomorrow you will have the power to make dreams come true.

What the Church will be in the future depends on your free cooperation with God’s grace.

The Holy Father is well known for his love of youth and it was at the end of this address that the Holy Father uttered those heartfelt emotions and blessings.

Young people of Ireland, I love you!  Young people of Ireland, I bless you!  I bless you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Holy Father would have liked to visit the whole of the island, but (for security and other reasons) the closest he could get to the North was Drogheda. There he made a wonderful gesture of peace and reconciliation.  Later that day addressing an ecumenical gathering of church leaders in Cabra he returned to the theme of peace and reconciliation and called for unceasing efforts to be made by all to bring about Christian unity on our Island.  In the clearest words ever, the Holy Father called for a new way to be found  to sort out the North-South divide. 

From Drogheda this morning I appealed for peace and reconciliation according to the supreme will of Christ, who alone can unify the hearts of men in brotherhood and common witness.

Let no one ever doubt the commitment of the Catholic Church and the Apostolic See of Rome to the pursuit of the unity of Christians.  Last November, when I met the members of the Secretariat for promoting Christian Unity, I spoke of the “Intolerable scandal of division between Christians”.  I said that the movement towards unity must not stop until it has reached its goal; and I called for the energetic commitment by Catholic Bishops and people to forward this movement.

One of the great traditions we associate with the late Holy Father is his love of Our Lady and her many shrines throughout the world. He attributed his recovery after being shot twice in 1981 by Mehmet Ali Agca to Our Lady of Fatima. At Knock Shrine he talked about his fascination for Marian shrines and the role of Mary in our lives.

Here I am at the goal of my journey to Ireland: The shrine of our Lady at Knock.  since I first learned of the centenary of this Shrine, which is being celebrated this year, I have felt a strong desire to come here, the desire to make yet another pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Mother of Christ, the Queen of Peace.  Do not be surprised at the desire of mine.  It has been my custom to make pilgrimages to the shrines of Our Lady, starting with my earliest youth and in my own country.  I have made such pilgrimages also a bishop and as a cardinal. 

It is fitting then, and it gives me great happiness to see, that the Irish people maintain this traditional devotion to the Mother of God in their homes, in their parishes, and in a special way at this Shrine at Cnoc Muire.

The Holy Father offered many beautiful prayers to Our Lady at Knock. In one such prayer he gathered many of the thoughts and needs of people hurt through violence in Ireland, especially the Northern troubles, in one magnificent prayer.

Mother, can we keep silent about what we find most painful, what leaves many of us so helpless?  In a special way we entrust to you this great wound now affecting our people, hoping that your hands will be able to cure and heal it.  Great is our concern for those young souls in the bloody acts of vengeance and hatred.  mother do not abandon youthful hearts.  Mother be with them in their most dreadful hours, when we can neither counsel nor assist them.  Mother, protect all of us and especially the youth of Ireland from being overcome by hostility and hatred.

At his final Mass on Irish soil which was said in Limerick, Pope John Paul II made a heartfelt plea for the importance and centrality of “close-knit family life” to the Christian message.

To all I say, revere and protect your family and your family life, for the family is the primary field of Christian action for the Irish laity, the place where your “royal priesthood” is chiefly exercised.  The Christian family has been in the past Ireland’s greatest spiritual resource.  Modern conditions and social changes have created new patterns and new difficulties for family life and for Christian marriage.  I want to say to you: do not be discouraged, do not follow the trends where a close-knit family is seen as outdated; the Christian family is more important for the church than ever before.

Bidding a fond farewell to the Irish people, he commended us to God and Mary, in the language God loves best, as Cardinal O’Fiach once said.

Dia agus Muire libh!
May God and Mary be with you and with the Families of Ireland, always.

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