Cathedral bells will ring out across Ireland to mark opening of World Meeting of Families
CATHEDRAL bells will ring in Catholic dioceses across Ireland today to mark the opening of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF), as Dublin prepares to host the biggest outdoor event in Europe this year.
Last-minute preparations are being made for the arrival of Pope Francis this weekend for the international event, held every three years for families all over the world to celebrate, pray and reflect together.
All of Ireland's 26 dioceses will today open the ninth WMOF simultaneously with a special liturgical ceremony and the ringing of bells in each of the diocesan cathedrals across the island.
It is almost 40 years since the last papal visit to Ireland, with Pope Francis set to arrive in Dublin on Saturday for the conclusion of the WMOF.
His first official engagement will be meeting President Michael Higgins before he visits St Mary's Pro-Cathedral and then the Capuchin Day Centre, which provides around 1,000 hot meals a day, clothing and showers for some of Dublin's homeless population.
Pope Francis will end his first day by presiding over the Festival of Families at Croke Park, with around 70,000 people expected at the two-hour event.
Among the stars set to perform are Italian tenor Andrew Botcelli, country music singers Daniel O’Donnell and Nathan Carter as well as Riverdance and The Priests, before the pontiff addresses the crowds.
On Sunday, the pope will fly to Co Mayo, travelling to the Knock Shrine where he will spend time in silent prayer before delivering a short address and leading around 45,000 pilgrims in the Angelus Prayer.
The WMOF will then culminate with a closing Mass in Phoenix Park in Dublin where a choir of 3,000 people and more than 2,000 eucharistic ministers will be involved in proceedings.
An estimated 500,000 people are expected to watch Pope Francis close the event from around 3pm.
With so many people travelling to Dublin, hotel prices in the capital have been soaring and the Irish Hotels Federation last night said it "expects that occupancy rates in Dublin hotels will exceed 90 per cent this weekend".
A spokesman for the federation said the papal visit came at "traditionally a busy time for hotels as it is peak tourism season".
A massive security and traffic management plan is in place with road closures and diversions planned, and Iarnród Éireann, Dublin Bus, Luas, Bus Éireann, Go-Ahead and Translink all operating special services.
For people travelling from Northern Ireland, Translink last night issued a reminder that pre-booking is essential for trains and buses.
Those with tickets for any of the pope’s events will be allowed to travel free on public transport within Dublin on the day of the event.
Papal transport hubs will be in operation close to Phoenix Park gates where buses will leave and collect passengers.
Park and ride hubs are also being set up at Leopardstown Racecourse (Luas), UCD Belfield (Dublin Bus), Maynooth University (train) and Fairyhouse Racecourse (train).
Away from the main events in Dublin and Knock, there will be family-friendly festivals taking place in dioceses across Ireland, including tonight in Armagh.
Events begin at the Shambles Market at 5pm before a procession to St Patrick's Cathedral from 7pm for evening prayer.
Along the way, there will be music from Malachi Cush, Andrea Begley and Cliona Hagan, a Polish choir and a band from East Timor as well as activities geared at younger members of the family including bouncy castles, face painting and bungee runs.