Ireland • 20-26 August 2018
Pope Francis is leading the World Meeting of Families – which takes place once every three years – in Dublin, Ireland in August 2018. Three groups from the Archdiocese of Luxembourg are attending. From the English-speaking community, Fr Ed is leading a group of eight around “Spiritual Ireland” before heading to Dublin for the main event. We will keep you up-to-date on our progress below.
Day 1 – Mon 20 August: Arrival in Ireland
Our small group from St Alphonse met up in Dublin Airport and made our way north to the beautiful, serene and enchanting Drumalis Retreat Centre in Larne, Co. Antrim.
Day 2 – Tues 21 August: Belfast and Enniskillen
Our second day began in Belfast, with a meeting with Most Rev Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, Very Rev Eugene O’Hagan, Chancellor of the Diocese (and in his spare time a member of the famous classical music trio The Priests), and their colleagues. A very insightful discussion about life in Northern Ireland.
We visited Clonard Redemptorist Monastery in West Belfast, where Fr Ed seemed to know everyone. We learned about the role the Monastery played in the Northern Ireland peace process and saw first-hand how the conflict still manifests itself. Here and elsewhere we heard of the fears about the impact of Brexit on community relations.
We then travelled to Enniskillen, where we joined the local community in St Michael’s Parish for the opening prayer service of the World Meeting of Families.
The service took place simultaneously in churches across the island of Ireland and we were honoured to be invited to play a role.
Everywhere we went we were welcomed with great warmth and hospitality.
Day 3 – Wed 22 August: Lough Derg, Sanctuary of St Patrick
Today we took a boat across remote Lough Derg to the island sanctuary of St Patrick. We joined another group from Hong Kong also visiting Ireland’s spiritual sites before converging on Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.
We celebrated Mass on the shoreside in St Brigid’s Chapel, with its unusual glass tabernacle.
We then drove down along Ireland’s Atlantic Coast and on to Knock, where public roads and private houses alike are adorned with yellow-and-white papal flags and bunting in anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit.
We were hosted by Fr Ed’s family for a memorable dinner in their home.
Day 4 – Thu 23 August: Ireland’s National Marian Shrine, Knock
Our day began with Mass in the Apparition Chapel, the spot on the outside end of Knock Parish Church where in 1879 a group of local people saw the Lamb of God on an altar surrounded by Mary, Joseph, John the Evangelist and angels. Fr Ed celebrated Mass, David served and Fr Ed’s father Godfrey was Eucharistic Minister. We were joined by a hundred-or-so other pilgrims.
We searched in vain for somewhere to hold morning prayer as the Shrine is now in shutdown in preparation for the Pope’s visit. So we ended up in the front room of Fr Ed’s parents’ home. Given that this whole event is about “family”, there could in fact have been no better place.
In the afternoon we headed back to Dublin and went our separate ways, to be hosted by local volunteers and to meet up with other pilgrims arriving today.
Day 5 – Fri 24 August: Pastoral Congress in Dublin
Today in Dublin we experienced all four seasons several times over. Despite the weather, we made the most of it.
In the morning, we attended the third day of the Pastoral Congress, a huge convention held across the sprawling venue of the Royal Dublin Society. Panel discussions, workshops, exhibition halls and more, with lots of ideas and materials for family-related pastoral activities, catechesis, safeguarding and so forth.
In the afternoon, all three groups from Luxembourg (those who toured Ireland, who attended the full congress in Dublin and who arrived on Thursday) came together for Mass with the Sisters and local congregation at the Redemptoristine Monastery of St Alphonsus. We were honoured to be joined by Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon.
The whole Luxembourg delegation then went for a very convivial dinner at which we said goodbye to Fr Ed, who returns to Knock in the morning to rejoin his family for the Pope’s visit there.
Day 6 – Sat 25 August: Festival of Families with the Holy Father, Dublin
The focus today was the Festival of Families in Croke Park Stadium. With music, dance, personal testimonies and an address by Pope Francis, the event combined a tribute to Ireland’s rich cultural heritage with a reflection on the challenges of modern family life.
The programme was spectacular: performances from Andrea Bocelli to Daniel O’Donnell to massed choirs, school orchestras, dance, acrobatics and even a sign-language ballad (not forgetting The Priests, one of whose members we had met earlier in the week – see above). The Riverdance troupe were augmented by hundreds of traditional Irish dancers who lined all four sides of the stadium.
The testimonies by families from Burkina Faso, Canada, India, Iraq and Ireland each focused on a different challenge – migration, poverty, technology… – and a different solution – solidarity, forgiveness, sharing… – revealing how much we have in common across borders and generations. In his speech, Pope Francis commented on each testimony with a relentlessly positive and encouraging message.
Day 7 – Sun 26 August: Mass with the Holy Father, Dublin
While Fr Ed was keeping an eye on Pope Francis in Knock in the morning, for the rest of us the week ended with Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park in the afternoon. It was a mammoth exercise: hundreds of thousands had to walk to the Mass and our 4.3km trek was one of the shortest. Fortunately, there were many helpers along the way.
It was a grey and blustery day but after some heavy rain in the morning the heavens held for the Mass itself. The liturgy was simple and conducted mainly in English, with readings and chants in Irish, Spanish and other languages, and the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin. Thousands of Eucharistic Ministers distributed Communion under both kinds to everyone present.
Much of the media coverage of the Pope’s visit in Ireland itself has focused on the Church’s response to sexual and other abuse by members of the clergy. At Mass today, the Holy Father replaced the usual penitential rite (“I confess…” and “Lord, have mercy…”) with a very personal act of contrition for all that has gone wrong in the Church in Ireland and elsewhere. He asked forgiveness for the abuse of children, for the exploitation of women, for the failure of the hierarchy and for other sins and crimes, stopping after each example to ask simply “forgive us”. It was a powerful moment, welcomed with applause by the congregation.
Pope Francis’ message is empowering and inclusive, as showcased in the Festival of Families last night. It is tragic that for many people this message is overshadowed by the legacy of abuse. But, as the Pope showed today, it is also right. For those affected by abuse, the impact is lifelong. The scars will take a long time to heal. Now is the time to atone, to do justice and to ensure that it cannot happen again. Until that is the case, Pope Francis’ message will continue to be overshadowed by the crimes, abuse and neglect of people within the Catholic Church.
The grey skies today reflected this sombre tone, in sharp contrast to the colour and life of the World Meeting of Families that preceded it. In his opening address, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that the Church in Ireland had passed through winter and was hoping for spring. Today felt like winter in more than one way.
Let us hope that the empowering message of Pope Francis, exemplified in the World Meeting of Families, will shine through and give fresh life to Ireland’s rich Christian heritage.