Comments of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at the
Launch of the Programme of “The Festival of Families”
Croke Park, Dublin, 19th July 2018
“There is great interest in the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families. The motives of that interest are varied but all of them are in some way linked with Pope Francis. Not just that Pope Francis is coming to Dublin, but perhaps much more about who is Pope Francis? What does he hope to attain through coming to Dublin?
At the end of September 1979, Saint Pope John Paul II paid a historic visit to Ireland. By any standards, it merited the term “historic visit”. The “Papal Visit” was to become legendary in Ireland. It was the sort of event that grandparents speak about to their grandchildren still today.
The events around that Papal visit constituted the largest ever gathering of people in the history of Ireland. Its impact was massive and enduring. Viewed with the eyes of the time it was not just a successful visit but also a real high point in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
How is that visit seen with the eyes of today? The enthusiasm and approval of the 1979 event has changed. From being seen just as a high point in the history of Irish Catholicism, it is looked on now as a turning point and the beginning in time of a gradual decline of a particular role of the Catholic Church Ireland.
What can Pope Francis do and what can he say to this changed modern Ireland? The expectation of Pope Francis’ visit vary. There is enthusiasm. Within days of opening registration, the bookings for all the major events of Pope Francis’ visit were “sold out”. Very large numbers will come from abroad and this event will be a way to highlight modern Ireland to the world. This is a great opportunity.
What do people expect from the visit? Many would come out to see any Pope who was coming to Ireland. For others Pope Francis has a special appeal. He is a sort of global religious star whose simple humanity and human warmth attracts. Pope Francis who is over 80 years old appears as a modern Pope and people like that.
Pope Francis is for many hard to understand, especially in an Ireland where people have had a sort of black and white understanding of the realities of faith. Sins were sins and that was it. Many find it hard to understand a Pope who can reaffirm doctrines and moral norms and yet admit that people live in grey areas and that that does not exclude them.
One of the great attractions of Pope Francis is how he shows us that he can live in a world where faith seems marginal and yet manage to touch hearts. He finds ways in which he can win hearts for what the teaching of Jesus involves, not through imposing and judging, but through winning and attracting. That is his real talent.
Pope Benedict had said that the challenge for the Church in many western countries is: “to witness to God in a world that has problems finding Him”. Pope Francis comes to Ireland as a man of God, one whose whole life is captivated with God of love is revealed in Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis recognises change. He realises that there many dimensions in the long tradition of Irish Catholicism and Irish missionary endeavour that have diminished. He recognises that there is no way in which the realities of the past can be replicated today. The visit of Pope Francis will not be a re-hash of 1979. He also recognises that something has been lost along the way and most of us can identify with that.
We all have an interest in working together to identify the values that will hold our Ireland together for the future, values around family, values around justice, values about economy, values around tolerance, and values about caring. These are the questions that will be looked at the three-day event in the RDS.
The Festival of Families aims at celebrating family life. Family is central to any society. Family is the backbone of intergenerational solidarity and of the passing on of values from one generation to the next. Families face challenges. Families face challenges and at times shame all of us who watch them face difficulties while society fails them. Pope Francis will go to the Capuchin Food Centre especially to be with families who are homeless or living in hotel rooms and who come to the centre every day because they could never have a regular meal together otherwise.
Pope Francis will not work miracles. In a visit of little more than 36 hours, it will not be possible for him to design a new roadmap for the Irish Church. At most he can offer the Irish Church the instruments on which that new road map can be drawn. We all have to understand however that while you can still draw maps on paper, maps today are different. They are interactive and constantly being updated. Pope Francis will challenge the Irish Church to be authentically the Church in a changed culture.” ENDS