September 1979 will be remembered for generations as the month that Pope John Paul came to Ireland and spent three glorious days with us. At Dublin Airport, on Saturday, September 29th, he was welcomed by President Hillery and members of the Irish Hierarchy and he spoke of his ‘immense joy’ as he set foot on Irish soil.
On reflection, one has to be amazed at the intensity of the 59 year old Pontiff’s visit. The Mass in the Phoenix Park, in the presence of 1¼ million people, was the highlight of his first day with us. On that same day, he had eight other engagements, including his visit to Drogheda, where he appealed for an end to violence in the north of Ireland.
His second day, Sunday, began with a reception for members of the Polish community in Dublin. Afterwards, he set out for Galway and the Youth Mass, and stopped off on the way to visit Clonmacnois. The unforgettable moment for the 4,000 young people in Ballybrit was his ‘Young People of Ireland, I love You’ and their 13 minute joyful applause in response. After the Youth Mass there was Knock, which he described as ‘the goal of his journey’.
On Sunday evening, he had a meeting with the Irish Bishops in Dublin.
On Monday, October 1st – his third and final day in Ireland – he visited Maynooth, where he addressed the students and staff. Meanwhile, several thousand people were waiting for him in Limerick, where he had Mass for them in the old racecourse. His homily had as its main theme, marriage and the importance of the family.
After Limerick, he went to Shannon Airport and from there, he flew to New York, where he addressed the United Nations Assembly. His final call to the people of Ireland was a call to remain faithful to the light of Christ that St. Patrick brought them. ‘Hibernia semper fidelis – Ireland always faithful.’
It is a challenge to be faithful in our generation, to hand on to those who come after us, the faith we received from those who went before us.