By Sarah Mac Donald - 26 April, 2014
Over 3,000 Irish pilgrims are descending on Rome this weekend for the unique canonisation ceremony which will see two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, elevated as saints.
Among the 150 cardinal concelebrants on Sunday morning will be Cardinal Sean Brady, Primate of All Ireland, and Cardinal Desmond Connell, the retired Archbishop of Dublin. The ceremony will be presided over by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.
The authorities in the city of Rome are currently erecting large screens around the city to cater for the overspill from the Square which may number up to 1.5 million people.
On Saturday, starting at 9pm, there will be a ‘White night of prayer’ and the churches throughout the centre of Rome will remain open for prayer and confession in various languages.
On Monday, a Mass of Thanksgiving will be held in St Peter’s Square. That afternoon, Cardinal Brady and Bishops Brendan Leahy and Kieran O’Reilly will concelebrate a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonisation of the two popes for Irish pilgrims at the Church of St Maria in Navicella in Rome at 4pm.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Cardinal Brady said ahead of his departure that he was “thrilled to be going to Rome to see the outstanding qualities of these two great popes being recognised in the most formal way by the Catholic Church.”
“I am also delighted that so many people are interested and that so many are travelling from Ireland.”
Among those who travelled from Dublin was Sheena Darcy who was born one week after Pope John Paul II left Ireland in October 1979.
The 34-year-old from Artane described herself as “really excited”.
She added, “I came here for the beatification in 2011 and people were queuing to get into St Peter’s Square from 4.30am. I expect this will be mental too, so I’ll watch it on a big screen somewhere in the city along with my friends.”
She said John Paul II had a huge impact on her life, starting with the time she spent volunteering at the Vatican’s Youth Centre in the Jubilee year 2000. She has attended four World Youth Days.
“Personally I hope it will reignite the spark of faith which we all need to do from time to time.”
She would also love to see Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict concelebrate the Mass for the two popes. “It would just such an historic moment because Benedict worked so closely for years with John Paul II.”
Identical twins, Gemma and Triona King (58) are civil servants. They met John Paul II three times.
“We literally fell in love with Jesus through John Paul.”
They met him in Cardiff and also when Catholic Youth Care organised a pilgrimage of 2,500 young Irish people to Rome in 1981. He had been shot in May and we went in August.
“We did readings at the Mass and afterwards he gave us a beautiful pair of rosary beads each.”
The third time they met him was in 1996. “He shook our hands and said, ‘Oh twins from Ireland’ and he laughed.”
In 2003, they pledged themselves to God as consecrated virgins at the Pro Cathedral in Dublin.
Speaking from St Peter’s Square in Rome, they said, “The atmosphere is building up. Everyone is in a fantastic humour. It will be a festival of faith linking heaven and earth.”
Irish Capuchin Fr Bryan Shortall from the friary on Church Street in Dublin is also in Rome.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Fr Bryan (44) explained that last year he celebrated his silver jubilee and was given an opportunity to come to Rome.
“I wanted to come for the canonisations of both John XXIII and John Paul II and I am also going to Assisi to pay my respects to the founder of the Franciscan family, St Francis of Assisi.”
“So it is a kind of a three-way pilgrimage for me,” he said.
He said that he had seen the large screens going up around Rome and had decided to watch the ceremony on one of these.
“They say they are not going to open the Via della Conciliazione – that is the big long street up to the Vatican – until about 4.30am. I would say people are going to camp out from the night before. I am not interested in being in among an enormous crowd of people and getting climbed on!”
“There is no doubt about it, these two popes from our time have an enormous appeal.”