Francis arrives in Ireland for first papal visit in nearly 40 years

Cheryl Sanders
August 25, 2018

The last time a Pope visited Ireland, it was John Paul II in 1979. He was then taken away in a motorcade.

At a low-key ceremony on the tarmac, he was greeted by politicians, bishops and dignitaries, and presented with flowers by the five-year-old daughter of Ireland's foreign minister, Simon Coveney.

After arriving at Dublin Airport he will travel to Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of Irish President Michael Higgins, where he will plant a tree and the two will have a private meeting.

The Catholic Church is trying to renew the trust of the faithful in countries like Ireland, Chile, Australia and the US where news about sexual abuse of minors by the clergy has caused outrage.

Adding to his prepared remarks, Francis said he was committed to ridding the church of this "scourge" no matter the moral cost or amount of suffering.

"I acknowledge that Pope Francis will meet with victims and survivors of abuse and hears their stories at first hand and that is an important step but it must also be followed up with action".

Francis will tour Dublin on Saturday on his Popemobile before visiting a hostel for homeless families and giving a speech at Croke Park stadium.

It would be up to those invited if they wanted to make public statements afterwards, said Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesperson.

The Pontiff was speaking ahead of a two-day visit to the country on August 25-26 as part of the World Meeting of Families.

The highlight of the visit will be an outdoor mass in the city's Phoenix Park on Sunday expected to draw 500,000 people - a tenth of the country's entire population.

In Tuam, a town in western Ireland, a silent vigil was planned in solidarity with victims of "mother and baby" homes - institutions accused of being punishment hostels for unwed pregnant women.

While it is not unusual for the pontiff to meet privately with victims of abuse during an overseas visit, it is unusual for the Vatican to announce such plans in advance. Thirty years ago, the Rev Ian Paisley, the DUP's founder, declared Pope John Paul II the anti-Christ.

Today, Ireland is no longer the staunchly Catholic country it was in 1979 when divorce and contraception were illegal and over the past three years, voters have approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums, defying the will of the Church. Now those pillars of Catholic teaching have been overturned with the help of successive popular votes, and mass attendance is well below 10% in some Dublin parishes.

But neither Francis' words nor a new meeting with abuse victims is likely to calm the outrage among rank-and-file Catholics following new revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up in the United States, an ongoing crisis in Chile and prosecutions of top clerics in Australia and France.

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