Pope Francis arrived in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families on Saturday 25 August. As questioning around abuse in the Church reaches fever pitch in America, the Pope's visit to Dublin also asks questions that the Irish Church needs to answer.
Pope Francis landed in Ireland just before 10.30am and was met by Tánaiste Simon Coveney and his wife and children. The first stop on his journey was to Áras an Uachtaráin for a meeting and tree planting ceremony with President Michael D Higgins. The Pope then went on to a service at St Mary's Pro Cathedral.
Many expected Pope Francis to speak out in response to the recent grand jury report on abuse in the dioceses of Pennsylvania. Archbishop Eamon Martin, primate of All Ireland, and host of the World Meeting of Families spoke out before the Pope's arrival, suggesting, "Abuse survivors want more than simply words." He said, "They want to know that he is committed to the change in the structures and whatever might have facilitated abuse to happen or indeed not to be dealt with properly."
Pope Francis did not use his speech at the Cathedral to talk about this, but instead focused on the virtues of marriage. He spoke about a revolution of love as an antidote to the secularization of society. "There will be no revolution of love without a revolution of tenderness!" He was yet to experience tenderness from a wide section of Irish society.
After meeting privately with abuse survivors and the Capuchin Fathers (who care for the homeless), Pope Francis made his way through the streets of Dublin. Reports suggested that the crowds were "only one or two rows deep", however, those along the route suggested otherwise. "It was quite a relaxed atmosphere, we were able to sit in place while the crowds filled in behind us".
The World Meeting of Families, which gathered families from all over the world in Dublin for a week-long congress and celebration continued with an evening in Croke Park. The Festival of Families combined song, dance and testimonies from families, with entertainment from River Dance, Daniel O'Donnell and many more. Pope Francis heard testimony from eight families from all over the world, from a Syrian refugee family to a traveller family spanning three generations.
He then addressed the crowd, regularly speaking off-script in response to the stories that he had heard. He asked the crowd of families present, "What would the church look like without you? A Church of statues, a Church of lone individuals." He also mentioned his controversial document Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love. One of its primary aims, he said, was "to help us recognize the beauty and importance of the family, with its lights and shadows".
Near the end of the address, during an amusing anecdote about the realities of the Wedding at Cana, Pope Francis paused after expressing the importance of a constant "going back to the source of the truth and the love that can change our lives." He clarified that this source was Jesus and his teaching.
The line, however, carried particular poignancy at a time when hiding from the truth has landed the Catholic Church in hot water. There have been calls from clergy and congregations alike to "open the books" and return to the "source of truth" and knowledge with those involved in the covering up of abuse throughout the Church's history. The lack of direct response to these calls enraged people further, and caused them to say that Pope Francis was not doing enough to address the issue.
Whilst many called for a return to the truth, Pope Francis was determined for his first day in Ireland to be focused on a return to love; one that seems absent from the Church in the wake of each new scandal and report. His focus on the love of the family and the love of Jesus in his sacrifice was paramount. He even quoted St Paul on the matter, in a bid to inspire those struggling to comprehend his lack of reaction. "We can know the truth of Saint Paul's words that, when all else passes away, "love never ends"" (1 Cor 13:8).