Preparation for the World Meeting of Families commenced three years ago when Pope Francis announced in Philadelphia that in 2018 that meeting would be hosted in Dublin, Ireland. In this article Sr Patricia Somers shares her experience of the event and of being a volunteer before and during the many events.
“The amount of preparation for an event of this magnitude has proved to be enormous. The experience of the International Eucharistic Congress in 2012 was useful in booking suitable venues such as the Royal Dublin Society (R.D.S.) and Croke Park. Volunteers were invited to help out, before, during and after the event. Many families throughout Ireland offered to host a visiting family. Others volunteered time in helping to staff the various offices and centres where preparations took place.
From February 2018 there was speculation that Pope Francis would attend. Eventually it was confirmed that the Pope would make a short pastoral visit to Ireland. When would he come, where would he go, and with who he would meet, were just some of the questions that kept the media guessing.
Ireland is a very changed place since the visit of St. John Paul II in 1979. That visit predated international terrorism, safe guarding of children and vulnerable adults, garda vetting of those who work with children and vulnerable adults, and mandatory reporting of suspected offenders. Lastly, in earlier 2018, the people of Ireland voted to legalise abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy irrespective of the circumstances.
My personal experience was, firstly to book a place for the three day Conference in the RDS. This conference included a guaranteed ticket to the Festival of Families in Croke Park and the closing Mass in the Phoenix Park. As a volunteer from the Pro Cathedral, I was involved from the end of July in preparing the vestments and altar linen for the event. One invitation was ‘ Come to a warehouse on the Naas Road with your own ironing board and iron’ The task involved 20 people a day working in teams of two, ironing the vestments that would be used for the various liturgies. The vestments were made in Poland and obviously got somewhat creased in transportation. It was a great experience of ‘community’ where willing people gave of their time and energy and enjoyed the tea/coffee breaks getting to know each other. Others volunteered in the same warehouse in packing bags, uniforms etc. for all those registered for the various events.
Also, through my ministry in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral I was involved in planning another event in preparation for the WMoF. The pilgrim walk, based on the Camino experience through 7 churches in Dublin’s inner city. Those taking part in this event had the benefit of a phone app in various languages to guide them.
Some weeks previous to the arrival of Pope Francis it became public knowledge that he would visit the Pro Cathedral. St Mary’s Pro Cathedral is almost 200 years old but had never had a visit from a Pope. The purpose of this visit was to give Pope Francis an opportunity to address those celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony in 2018 – namely newly-wed or soon to be wed couples. Each diocese was invited to propose names of those to be invited.
Approximately 450 couples were included on a first come first served basis. Many were disappointed that the venue had a limited seating capacity. Security was extremely tight for this event. On arrival in the church, Pope Francis first went to St Joseph’s altar where there is a candle lighting to remember all those people who suffered from clerical abuse. The Pope prayed in silence for some minutes and apart from a little baby crying, the place was silent. His address to the young couples was based on ‘The Joy of Love’ with his words of understanding and good humour really giving them encouragement in the daily living out of their marriage vows. He stated very clearly that these young couples and their children are the future of the church. A small number had infants with them and Pope Francis commented on the beauty of their music (crying!)
Those who worship frequently in the ‘Pro’ were accommodated on Cathedral Street to get a glimpse of the Holy Father. I had the privilege of shaking Pope Francis’ hand as he exited the church. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the people outside were so pleased to cheer the successor of St Peter.
Many sisters attended the Festival of Families in Croke Park. I have to admit it was my first visit there in spite of being reared in Dublin. Sr Bernadette Sweeney had some of the Crumlin children perform for the Pope.
What a different scenario on Sunday morning when the weather broke and the long journey on foot to the Phoenix Park included rain gear. Living in Stanhope Street was almost as close as one could be to the various entrance points into the Park, so for me the journey was relatively short. I had the privilege of being an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist at the Final Mass. Many people decided not to go to the Phoenix Park for the Mass as it was being relayed on big screens in many churches and of course on television throughout the world.
The real challenge now is to build on the momentum of the WMoF so as to bring the Joy of the Gospel into the lives of people on a daily basis. Please keep this special ministry for all of us in prayer.”