Pope John Paul II visited Ireland from Saturday, 29 September to Monday, 1 October 1979, the first ever trip to Catholic Ireland by any Pope. Over 2.5 million people, (out of a population of 3.5 million at the time), attended events in Dublin, Drogheda, Clonmacnoise, Galway, Knock, Limerick, and Maynooth. I went to see the lad Józef Wojtyła at the Limerick venue. There’s an article alone on that trip but I digress. Now, nearly forty years later, he’s coming back!
No not the Polish Pope but this new guy from South America called Francis. He’ll be dropping in for a chat with us for about 36 hours over the 25th & 26th of August and already the preliminaries are different. This mad country has changed beyond recognition since the last Papal visit. Back then it was all rosary beads, best bib and tucker, bend the knee, bow the head, beat the breast and kiss any ring within reach of you. The purity and piety on display in 1979 put the most devout in the Vatican to shame. It’s a wonder the weight of plenary indulgences prayed for at the time didn’t sink the whole island beneath the sea.
But they didn’t. We’re still afloat though much has changed it has to be said. Today everyone is riding everyone else without as much as an engagement ring to be seen. Worse again from a Papal perspective, there’s many Irish riding their own sex too without a care for eternal damnation. In the social and religious pop charts, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost have dropped off the top three slots to be replaced by money, power and influence. The fawning politicians of the 1979 Dublin airport tarmac fame are replaced now by a cabal of individuals who appear to believe they are actually God. I can’t see many genuflections from the Irish front bench when the Lord’s messenger on earth alights the aircraft staircase. If Francis wants to make an impression on that lot of heathens then he’d better strike them all down with plague as they smirk at him.
Then there’s the common people. Sure, the breast beaters are still around but they are a minority and in my age group and above. Hell, the churches are almost empty from one end of the month to the next. Most of the under thirties couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Catholic Church or any religion for that matter and apart from the worldwide celebrity status of our impending guest, they’ll have no interest in the lad. I can’t see him being any more than a handy excuse for a piss up for many people. Last week on Joe Duffy an atheist rang in to boast how he’d managed to get 600, (free), tickets for one of the Pope’s venues. With some pride in his voice he told the nation that it was his intention to destroy those tickets to ensure there’d be 600 less people seeing the man. What a prick!
On the commercial front, some enterprising ice cream outfit are producing a memorial product they call the “Ice Pope”. Apparently it is a traditional ice pop but sculpted as the Pope’s head and figure. Are you supposed to lick it I wonder? I doubt the makers could care less even if you shoved it up your hole as long as they get the money. It’s so tatty, isn’t it? There are over two billion catholics on earth, many who would starve to get to see this man in the flesh but I fear we’ve become so full of ourselves here that it will be the badge of ‘super-cool’ to say, “He was down the road but I couldn’t be arsed at the time.”
Oddly enough as I look at all of this I see a lost innocence and with it a lost feeling of happiness as well. Spiritual peace brings a comforting sense of well-being and it can be lasting. On the other hand we now have the twin pursuits of power and money and these are what we are supposed to aspire to to make us happy. Our leaders discuss the economy to the exclusion of any talk about a society. They presume upon our cohesiveness as a people and our blind stupidity as individuals as they dole out the mushroom treatment short term. Pope Francis, on the other hand, comes with the eternal message of God, handed down over two thousand years. It is a message of love and compassion, of forgiveness and empathy, of peace and (genuine) good will to your fellow man. It is depressing then that he may turn out to be some kind of weird freak show in our so-called modern Ireland.
I sincerely hope not!