29 September marks 42 years since Pope John Paul II visited Ireland. As the first Pope to visit Ireland, we thought we would take a look back at this historic event.
Between 29 September 1979 and 1 October 1979, around 2.5 million people attended events across Ireland to mark the first-ever Papal visit. In contrast, around half a million people attended events held for the most recent Papal visit (Pope Francis in 2018).
Looking back on Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland shows how much the nation has changed in the past 40 years. The Ireland of 1979 was deeply religious.
Pope John Paul ll was elected Pope on 16 October 1978.
Born Karol Józef Wojtyła on 18 May 1920 in Poland, Pope John Paul ll succeeded Pope John Paul VI. Pope John Paul VI died only 33 days after his election as Pope. Cardinal Wojtyła adopted the name of his predecessor as a form of tribute.
Pope John Paul ll had an extraordinary life. By age 20, he was the only member of his family left – his parents and brother had all died.
This grief and numerous accidents in youth, including being hit by a tram and a lorry, influenced his decision to enter the Priesthood.
His stance on social issues was generally conservative. He continued to uphold the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion, contraception, and the ordination of women.
Pope John Paul ll lived through Nazi rule, and as a result, worked to increase tolerance and respect between peoples and faiths. He also worked to end communist rule in Europe.
Today, we are looking back on Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979.
On 29 September 1979, Pope John Paul ll arrived in Dublin from Rome aboard an Aer Lingus plane. He kissed the ground and was greeted by the President of Ireland, Patrick Hillery.
He was then flown by helicopter to Phoenix Park, where he held a mass for 1,250,000, around one-third of the entire population of Ireland.
During Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland, he held mass across the country. He conducted services in County Louth, County Galway, and County Limerick.
The Pope also wished to visit Northern Ireland. However, it was deemed too big of a security risk. At Drogheda, County Louth (close to the border), Pope John Paul II appealed to those active in the conflict.
He said, “On my knees, I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace.”
On 30 September, Pope John Paul ll held a Youth Mass at Ballybrit Racecourse, County Galway. Around 300,000 of Ireland’s youth attended. Here, he gave the most memorable address of his visit, saying, “Young People of Ireland, I love you.”
On the afternoon of the same day, another significant mass took place. At Knock Shrine, County Mayo (which is part of the airport), Pope John Paul ll held a mass for around 450,000 people.
The current Pope, Pope Francis, visited Ireland on 25 and 26 August 2018.
Pope Francis stayed for a day shorter than Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland, and the numbers coming to see him were much lesser than the previous Papal visit.
Around 500,000 people attended Pope Francis’ mass at Phoenix Park, compared to 1.25 million people when Pope John Paul ll celebrated mass at the Dublin park.
In 2018, abortion had just become legal in Ireland via the repeal of the eighth amendment. Similarly, Ireland legalised same-sex marriage in 2015.
Both these historical changes in law occurred via majority wins in referenda. Much anger has emerged in Ireland about the treatment of women, LGBT people, and the children of unmarried mothers.
Many are also angry about the child sexual abuse scandals covered up by the Roman Catholic Church.
In his speech, Pope Francis condemned the history of child sex abuse by priests in Ireland. However, he fell short of addressing victims’ wishes for more action to be taken.
All of these factors have led to a large fall in Church attendance and to a very different Ireland from that of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979.
Did you attend either Papal visit to Ireland? Let us know your memories in the comments.