Papal visit: Pope Francis has hard act to follow

The Vatican has confirmed what most people in Ireland already know: Pope Francis is to visit here in August.

It will be the second visit ever of the head of the Catholic Church to Ireland and is due to take place as part of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. It is a pastoral rather than a State visit, but no less important for that.

Many older people will remember with fondness the visit of John Paul II in 1979 from the moment he stepped off an Aer Lingus plane in Dublin and kissed the tarmac to his departure three days later, after rapturous welcomes everywhere.

Pope Francis will encounter a very different Ireland.

An anti-hierarchical Church movement, spurred by revulsion at clerical child abuse, has morphed into a more muted secularism grounded in solidarity with those of other religions, as well as LGBT people and non-believers.

Francis will also find an Ireland that is at peace. During John Paul’s visit, the Troubles were raging to the extent that, at a Mass in Drogheda, he implored paramilitaries on both sides: “On my knees, I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace.” He was ignored at the time but the message of peace finally got through with the IRA ceasefire that helped create a path to peace.

The anthem associated with John Paul’s visit was ‘He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” — a hard act to follow for Francis.

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