[Melissa Byrne from Dublin]
“The joy of love, a joy for all God’s family”, my sisters and I sing at top volume as we walk alongside hundreds of others making their way to the Phoenix Park. As we sing, other voices belonging to strangers start to join in and as smiles are exchanged I feel as though I’m surrounded by family. Excitement seems like too passive a word to sum up the look on everyone’s faces as they see Papal flags flying alongside the River Liffey.
I was lucky enough to see Pope Francis in Poland at World Youth Day two years ago but being able to see him in the country I have grown up in was an experience I’ll never forget. Hearing visitors from other countries speak of the Irish welcome left me with an exceptional amount of pride for this country. How lucky we are to have held such a joyous and momentous occasion that provided an opportunity to reawaken the love of the church in Ireland.
One particular moment during the Mass which I found particularly emotional was the penitential rite. Pope Francis asked, on behalf of the Catholic church, for forgiveness for the grave sins of some members of the church in Ireland: “We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power, of conscience, and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the church”. I cannot imagine the pain, heartbreak and betrayal victims of abuse and their families and friends must feel. It pains me to imagine my younger siblings being abused by the person who is supposed to be a representative of Christ in their lives. Pope Francis makes it very clear that these actions were and are inexcusable and that we must be in constant pursuit of truth and justice. Those who committed these horrific crimes were living a life far removed from the teachings of Catholicism. I, like Pope Francis and many others in the Catholic church, pray for justice, peace and healing for all those affected by abuse.
Applause was heard from the crowds after this plea for forgiveness and I have no doubt that I wasn’t the only one who was glad that Pope Francis had made very clear the condemnation of these actions by members of the church.
In his homily, Pope Francis spoke about imitating Christ’s self sacrifice, being reborn to a more enduring love and how, through this love, we can save our world from selfishness, greed and its indifference to the needs of the less fortunate. Pope Francis has always spoken on the unique dignity of every human being and the value that each person has.
How Pope Francis acted during his time here shows how he lives his life in accordance with what he preaches. His visit to the Capuchin Day Centre forced me to look at my life and evaluate how I treat those less fortunate than myself. Candice Hartigan, a woman who avails of the services provided by the centre, said “They’re non-judgmental. They don’t ask you why you want something. You just put your name down and that’s it.” We are not called to the bare minimum, but rather to extreme selflessness for others, whether they be those less fortunate or our family members.
Pope Francis when speaking to people at the Capuchin Day Centre said, “They help you without taking away your dignity. That is the face of Jesus Christ.”. To truly live as Jesus Christ requires us is to reach out to those who feel marginalised and excluded from society. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart.”
Another line in his homily that made me think was when he said: “The task of bearing witness to the good news is not easy”. This has never been more applicable than it is for the church in Ireland today. We can be timid in our sharing of the faith and often worry about how we may be perceived by others who don’t share our views. There is no room in Catholicism for a passive faith that we hide away from others. Our faith is beautiful, joyful and loving! Through our witness of the faith we can reignite the fire of Catholicism in Ireland!
We don’t need to hide away, but rather stand together in unity as we proclaim, as Pope Francis said, “The joy of the Gospel!”.
After many people had left the Phoenix Park, my family and extended family were still there. They’re always afraid they might miss some craic! As I witnessed crowds of people flooding the altar to take selfies, children singing and dancing as they threw ponchos up into the wind and my dad putting his arm around my mom, I felt hope. Not a meek hope, but a fiery hope for the future of the Catholic church in Ireland. A church that is very much alive!