Northern Ireland

Crowds for Pope Francis' Phoenix Park Mass fall well below expected level

The crowd gathers at Phoenix Park in Dublin for the Pope's Mass 
The crowd gathers at Phoenix Park in Dublin for the Pope's Mass 

The number of people who turned out for the Papal Mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park on Sunday appeared to be well short of the expected 500,000.

An estimated half a million pilgrims were expected to gather to hear Pope Francis say Mass on the second day of his historic visit to Ireland.

The tickets had been distributed in July for the landmark religious event but the number of people who attended is likely closer to less than half of that.

The Phoenix Park event took place after Francis visited the Knock holy shrine in Co Mayo in which 45,000 people were expected to turn out.

Sunday saw massive amounts of rain from the early hours of the morning, resulting in a huge washout of the park, with pilgrims forced to trek through blowing gales and constant downpour for much of the 3km walk.

Many reported that although they had secured their tickets for the event, the amount of walking from the park entrance to their standing position prevented them from attending, especially for the elderly or infirm.

Large umbrellas and deckchairs were among the many banned items from the park, meaning pilgrims would have to carry foldaway chairs while braving the elements.

While a ban on mobility scooters and large prams from Phoenix Park hindered parents with young children or people with mobility issues from attending.

Those with mobility scooters were told weeks ago that as there would be no chargers at the event meaning organisers ran the risk of scooters breaking down.

A Gardai spokesperson said at the time: "Mobility scooters are not allowed due to public safety issues and space restrictions given the volume of people attending the event."

Earlier this month, HSE emergency chiefs warned those with health problems against attending the Mass.

Despite the obstacles in place for Phoenix Park, many also noted that during the Pope's tour around Dublin city centre via Popemobile yesterday, the crowds were considerably smaller than expected.

In more crowded areas, such as College Green, the crowds were just one or two people deep, while some streets had barely any onlookers as the pontiff passed by.

The crowds were vastly different from those witnessed when Pope John Paul II made his trip to Ireland in 1979.

Among the well-wishers lining Dublin's streets there were also protesters, who vented their anger as he drove by.

The Mass rounded off a week dominated by the legacy of abuse scandals linked to church abuse and mistreatment in Ireland.

The Pope's efforts to address the abuses in a speech in Dublin Castle drew criticism from victims who say the pontiff did not go far enough in relation to accountability, which could also have affected turn-out from some of the Catholic community who expected more action from the Pope.

A number of counter protests were held across Ireland running concurrently to the mass, the most popular being the Stand4Truth campaign protest organised by abuse survivor Colm O'Gorman.

Attended by celebrities such as writer Marian Keyes and a performance by the singer Hozier, around 1,000 people congregated in Dublin's Garden of Remembrance to stand in solidarity with victims of church-led abuse.

A silent vigil was held in Tuam, Co Galway to remember the women and children who died in Ireland's mother and baby homes at 3pm on Sunday.

A significant number of tickets were also taken by the Say Nope To The Pope campaign, with some booking a number of tickets with no intention of attending to the Mass.


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