Northern Ireland news

A day to remember for thousands of pilgrims in Phoenix Park

Pope Francis arrives to attend the closing Mass at the World Meeting of Families at Phoenix Park in Dublin
John Monaghan

JUDGING by yesterday's scenes in Phoenix Park, Pope Francis will have learnt that two stereotypes about the Irish are true: we love our tea, which was in plentiful supply, and our weather is terrible, even in August.

The wind was the first thing to greet the pontiff when he arrived in Ireland on Saturday and it, along with rain, briefly threatened to disrupt the closing event of his visit.

From mid-morning yesterday crowds made their way towards Phoenix Park bringing food and supplies for the journey, which lasted several miles and for most had to be made on foot because of strict traffic restrictions around Dublin.

Ponchos, umbrellas and coats were essential for the long walk, but the mood of pilgrims remained upbeat throughout.

The operation in and out of Phoenix Park was smooth and straight-forward - gardaí, Civil Defence, first-aid teams and hordes of volunteers were on hand for every eventuality, and showed Ireland's best side on a day when the eyes of the world were fixed on this island.

While Ireland as host took centre stage, this was a 'Catholic' event in the literal sense of the word, with many nationalities and languages making up a truly global gathering.

Even though tickets clearly stated that those attending should be in place by 2pm, there were still huge gaps and largely vacant sections as the countdown to the Pope's arrival began.

In the farthest confines of Phoenix Park not only were the numbers not comparable with 1979, they didn't even come close.

Pope Francis arrives to attend the closing Mass at the World Meeting of Families at Phoenix Park in Dublin. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association

But one advantage of the empty spaces was the ability to move forward to other sections, facilitating a surge of people who rushed to catch a glimpse of the popemobile.

The outlay of the site for pilgrims - a blanket of well-manned metal barriers - led some to joke that Tyrone's GAA fans had arrived in Dublin a week ahead of schedule.

After all the clamour and the photo opportunities, a more solemn mood descended as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin welcomed the Pope and spoke of how Ireland had changed since his predecessor visited.

There was applause as Francis apologised and asked for forgiveness for crimes and cover-ups by clergy and the Church's hierarchy.

After the gospel, the faithful listened intently as the Pope outlined the challenges and joys of family life and bearing witness to the Christian message.

And then, with a few words in English - a language the Pope had not spoken extensively during his stay - he blessed all those gathered and brought an end to a packed schedule, leaving young and old alike hoping that it won't be another four decades until the next papal visit.

John Monaghan

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