Pope’s visit to Ireland

Pope Francis  was born in December 1936 in Argentina. File photograph: Luca Zennaro/Reuters 
Pope Francis is expected to draw significantly smaller crowds than the last papal trip to Ireland by John Paul II nearly 40 years ago. Ireland has changed utterly since those days, but the imminent visit from the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics will still be the biggest gathering the country has seen in decades. So, what do we know about it? 

Since the white smoke announced the 266th leader of the Catholic Church in 2013, Pope Francis given name Jorge Mario Bergoglio has enjoyed high popularity ratings worldwide, driven by his humble style, common touch and emphasis on compassion and social justice.
The one-time nightclub bouncer in his native Buenos Aires is widely seen as a reformer and moderniser within the church. But this approach grates with traditionalists, while liberals object to his orthodoxy on other matters including sex. He is the first South American and Jesuit to become pope. He was born on December 17th, 1936, making him 81 years of age.
Pope Francis will touch down at Dublin Airport at 10:30am on Saturday, August 25th. He will be greeted by clergy and representatives of the Government. It remains to be seen whether he will replicate the famous gesture of Pope John Paul II, at the start of the last papal visit almost nearly four decades ago, by kissing the Irish ground as he gets off the plane. Bookies are offering narrow odds on the chances.
First up, a trip to Áras a Úachtaráin to meet President Michael D Higgins. There will be a welcome ceremony at the main gate to the Áras, beside the Phoenix Monument on Chesterfield Avenue, in the Phoenix Park. The pontiff will spend about half an hour with President Higgins, his wife Sabina and, no doubt, the first dogs, Bród and Sioda. The Pope will sign a visitors' book then have a private meeting with the President. There are also plans for the pontiff to plant a tree in the grounds of the Aras.

Then, it is over to Dublin Castle where the Pope will meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as well as church leaders, the Council of State, Government MEPs, Northern Ireland political party leaders and some members of the judiciary. This will be where the first of his three planned speeches during the two-day trip will be given. After that, he will cross the Liffey again to see St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral before making a private visit to the Capuchin Fathers day centre for homeless families on Arran Quay. Here, he will meet 80 people who are homeless. Then, the first major event of the trip the Pope will give an address to the Festival of Families extravaganza at Croke Park.

Park. It’s a Catholic church celebration of the role of the family, held in cities around the world every three years. Around 70,000 people are expected at a two-hour Croke Park concert, which has a star-studded line-up including Italian tenor Andrew Bocelli, Daniel O’Donnell, Nathan Carter, Paddy Moloney, Riverdance, Dana Masters, Celine Byrne, Moya Brennan, The Begley Family and The Priests. None quite as famous though as God’s representative on Earth: the Pope’s speech on Saturday evening is billed as the highlight.

Not a bit. The second day is just as hectic. After breakfast, Pope Francis will fly from Dublin to Knock where 45,000 devotees are expected to endure long walks and no seating to catch a glimpse of him at the Chapel of Knock Shrine, where he will lead the Angelus. Knock is under a de-facto shutdown from Saturday evening in advance of the one-hour appearance. No-one other than residents can stay in the Co Mayo village overnight. The main N17 road between Charlestown and Claremorris will close from midnight until at least 3pm on Sunday. Security will be tight at the airport. Organisers say those travelling for the event should prepare for a lot of walking, a lot of waiting and a lot of standing. There will be designated “rest zones” as well as food and drink stations. You can bring a portable seat.