A look back at how the last papal visit has captured the hearts and minds of the Irish people

The spiritual leader came, saw and conquered the hearts and minds of the Irish people in 1979, writes Dan Buckley.

IF your name is John Paul, chances are that you were born in 1979 shortly after the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland.

One in 10 boys born in 1980 in Ireland was named in his honor and the thousands of Irish-born John Pauls form the living legacy of his historic visit, the first by a pope to Ireland.

For 48 hours the whole country harbored a frenzied religious and communal vehemence when Pope John Paul reached one emotional peak after another – the asphalt kissed at Dublin airport, celebrating Mass in Phoenix Park, appealing to the violent in Drogheda, touring goes old monastery of Clonmacnoise, lighting a candle on the facade of the church in Knock and, most notably, the bond with the youth of Ireland in Galway.

More pilgrim than pope, the most popular spiritual leader of the modern church, came, saw and conquered the hearts and minds of the Irish people, young and old, religious or not.

Because of this, every moment of his journey was interrupted by spontaneous bursts of clapping, cheering, singing and singing from the enormous crowds that gathered everywhere. The American spiritual hymn He & # 39; s Got the Whole World in His Hands became the background music and the national anthem of his visit.

On the first day of his visit, September 29, 1979, more than 1.5 million people gathered for the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park, the nation's largest gathering place, even John McCormack at the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and the sample meetings of Daniel O & # 39; Connell more than 150 years earlier.

It was a strict schedule. On that day alone, the Pope's route included the Vatican, Rome Airport, Dublin Airport, the Phoenix Park, Drogheda, back to Dublin and then meetings with President Patrick Hillery and the Irish hierarchy.

His route was so full that the Pope was jokingly claiming that the Irish were trying to kill him on his first day.

The Aer Lingus 747 pilot who brought John Paul from Rome flew over Phoenix Park on the way to Dublin airport. It was a moment of excitement, joy and ecstasy, bordering on hysteria. Tens of thousands of flags were moved and a roar like a primordial beast arose from the huge crowd, followed by another hour later when he returned to the country with a helicopter.

It was there that worshipers got their first look at the famous popemobile – a mechanized, more utilitarian version of the Sedia gestatoria, the ceremonial throne that was used for almost a millennium as part of the papal ceremony.

As the pope went to the gigantic open-air altar, a bunch of cardboard periscopes sprang up to catch a glimpse of the famous character decorated in papal white.

For many it was more spectacular than sacrament. While the pope celebrated Mass before the papal cross, thousands of mostly young people took advantage of the empty roads around Dublin to slip out of the Phoenix Park and went to Galway to take the best positions the next day for a papal youth service.

Later that day he went to Drogheda, where he showed his determination to do more than just to appeal

for the believers. He also wanted to challenge them. He planned to travel north to the border to Armagh, but two atrocities from the IRA on the eve of the visit were spent on this – the murder of Lord Louis Mountabatten at Mullaghmore, Co Sligo and the two traps of 18 British soldiers killed at Warrenpoint, Co Down.

In the wake of those murders there was a real danger that Loyalist paramilitaries would focus on Pope John Paul II if he went to Northern Ireland. A few weeks before the visit it was announced that he would not travel to the north of the border. This meant that a mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, had to be canceled.

Organizers were left in a quandry, but the dilemma of a peasant family solved the problem, proving that the Lord is indeed working in mysterious ways.

If Terry Grant had not been forced to attack a ragweed attack – a harmful weed – on his farm, the Irish hierarchy would never have considered it a suitable place for the Pope.

"It was at the beginning of August – a week or so after we cut off the Ragwort – and I received a phone call," Terry remembers in an RTÉ radio documentary.

It was from a local monseigneur who described Terry's post-ragworth farmland as "palatial" and more than capable of harboring the pope. It was located in Killineer, near Drogheda, Co Louth and, although south of the border, it was inside

the most important diocese of Armagh.

The Grant family and the Irish hierarchy expected about 40,000. In fact, 300,000 people ended up on a warm, sunny day. Many more took the viewpoint into the nearby Killineer house.

In vigorous words, John Paul warned the Irish people that the ongoing violence is the "land you say he loves & # 39; and & # 39; the values ​​you say hugs & # 39; will ruin.

Subsequently, in the most dramatic words spoken during the visit, he appealed directly to the men and women of violence: "On my knees I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace, "

Within a few days the Provisional IRA had rejected his plea. "In all conscience we believe that violence is by far the only means of removing the evil of the British presence in Ireland," said the IRA in a statement.

The next day there was a clear contrast when the Pope left for Galway to celebrate a youth mass for 300,000 on the racecourse of Ballybrit.

It was more a folk festival than a religious celebration, with trendy clergy such as bishop Eamon Casey and Fr Michael Cleary who organized events. This took a long time before one of them became known as hypocritical skirts.

What made Galway special was the ability of John Paul to come into contact with the youth of the nation through word and gesture. When he took in the 300,000 young faces, he stated, "When I look at you, I see Ireland as the future."

Then he spoke the famous words: "Young people from Ireland, I love you." The applause and cheering of that lasted longer than the pope's homily.

Nothing can be added to that – not the service at Knock that was attended by 450,000, the visit to Clonmacnoise or the singing of the 400,000 who said goodbye to him at the Greenpark racetrack outside Limerick on 1 October.

After that last mass, Pope John Paul departed from Shannon Airport to Boston to make a six-day tour through the United States. The very first papal odyssey to the land of St. Patrick was over.

This essay is part of a special retrospective supplement to the papal visit in 1979, which will be published with the Irish Examiner of tomorrow (Friday, August 24, 2018). Packed with images from the archive of the Irish Examiner you can not miss it.

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