Following Love

I remember it clearly, that September night in 1979, when our Mam and Dad woke us up at 3am in the morning to go and see Pope John Paul 11 in The Phoenix Park, Dublin.
We were very lucky to live in Cabra so we didn’t have that far to walk.
Mam packed the picnic and she and Dad proudly shuffled their six children out through the front door and made the 5K walk through Finbar road, Fausaugh avenue and Nephin road with all of their neighbours and all of their children, entering into the park through the Navan road gates.
It was an exciting time. We were going to see the leader of our Catholic Church. The person that was closest to God. The person that God sent all his instructions to, down from Heaven. There were droves of people in their hundredths and their thousandths.
I remember feeling the emotion as we all walked sleepily almost silently with just the gentle sounds of the pattering of feet on pavements. This overwhelming gathering of people who were poor in pocket but rich in soul. We were a community of people, united in our support for each other.
As a twelve year old child, I was unaware of the devastation that had happened and was still happening inside the walls of Catholic institutions.
Yes, as a pupil in a primary Catholic school were slapping was an allowed discipline that I received when I was cheeky, I never felt it was done in vengeance. I was never slapped in secondary school, and I was much bolder!
My Dad of course had a different experience in school where the boys were beaten viciously and it had left a deep resentment within his bones.
However, he followed the rules of his faith and he still raised us to believe in God and to respect our faith. So he was proud to be showing his Pope his beautiful six daughters. He was doing his best as a Catholic husband and father. As a wife and a parent myself now, I understand all too well the challenges that life throws at you and I understand why my parents and the many others went to the park on that night, they were looking for help and guidance and affirmation of their faith.
I don’t of course remember anything the Pope said but I do remember the sense of belonging and warmth in the crowd.
And the love. I remember the overwhelming sense of love.
There has been lots of change in Ireland in the last thirty nine years. And one of the major factors of change in Ireland in those past years was the opportunity for poor people to go further in education. The young children were staying longer in schools. They stayed to do junior cert and then they stayed to do leaving cert. And then they began to apply for third level education. Older people were returning to school to get their leaving cert and then applying as mature students to go to college. Educated people gain knowledge. Yes the knowledge of new skills but also the knowledge of right and wrong. Our Catholic people began to realise that they had been wronged and hurt. And they were hurt really badly by the leaders of their Catholic Church who had been abusing their power and using their status to control and hurt vulnerable people.
There was anguish and anger among the people and it caused many people to lose faith in their church. They were disillusioned by God. Were was he in their times of need?
These were not good times. Of course, not every leader or priest or nun in the Catholic Church abused their power, yet they were all tarnished. But these priests were working hard at trying to keep the people in Mass. They were speaking words of forgiveness. They were talking of human error. We all make mistakes but we learn from our mistakes and we change and we become stronger, better at what we do. They brought in words like gratitude. Lets be grateful for this new day of life. It is a wonderful gift. They were no longer using words like obey or should do.
When my sister announced a few weeks ago that she had tickets for The Phoenix Park for Sunday the 28th August 2018 to see Pope Francis, I was already planning my picnic. I wanted to give my children that same experience that I had all those years ago.
This time, because everybody’s drives now, the Police had closed off all the city to cars. There was no way in or out, unless you walked. There was an air of excitement as we headed into Cabra to my Ma’s  house on Carnlough road. Sadly Dad passed away a few years ago, but Mam was all ready to go. She too had fond memories of bringing her children to see the last Pope and she was delighted to be bringing her Grandchildren. We borrowed a wheelchair for Mam because her knees are not the best and we began that same walk through the roads of Cabra to see our Pope. We chatted and we giggled on our way. We took turns in pushing the wheelchair and laughed at the young teenagers who were already tiring of the walk a few hundred yards on. We cajoled with the other walkers along the way, although it wasn’t as many as the last time, there was that lovely feeling in the air.
We entered the Park and were met by the many thousands of people coming from various entry points and we were guided by speaker to our area of colour. All you could see were smiles and warmth on their faces. They were carrying little children on their shoulders and had satchels on their backs filled with picnic delights. Some carried chairs and had already stopped on the sideways to have a bit of their picnic. There were people of all nationalities, the new part of our Irish family. There was an amazing comradeship among the masses. Nobody pushing or shoving through the crowd or moans about skipping the queues. Everybody was courteous to everybody. We were all there for the same reason. We were following love and goodness and compassion and forgiveness. We wanted to be reminded of these words. And I had heard Pope Francis speak in Croke Park on the TV and in Knock that morning and his words were worth listening to.
I was proud to watch our young soldiers helping people with their wheelchairs get over the mucky paths and our many young policemen helping direct the people. They had that old-fashioned good manners, it was lovely to see our young people show this respect to the elderly and the weak. Some were recording the scene on their phones, thousands of people walking in peace. A scene to behold.
We finally got to our spot. We had a good view, two paddocks down from the front. There were plenty of TV screens lest we couldn’t see our Pope too clearly.
We quickly got down to business and opened up our picnics, sharing our sambo’s to all. There were cakes, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks. Gone was the diet of the day!
The kids begged nanny for a chance in the wheelchair and she gave in! The divils!
And then the Pope arrived in his Pope mobile and the crowds cheered. The music that the Orchestra played was almost angelic in the wind. Pope Francis made his way through the columns to bless all of the men, women and children.
In the confusion the people weren’t sure which area he was coming to first, so the thousands of people  started running to find him. It was so funny. Everyone was laughing, nobody was pushing or shoving. My thirteen year old daughter was recording us running towards the Pope. And the smile on his face when we finally caught up with him as he blessed us all and the smile on my daughter’s face as we stored this memory and everybody there was smiling too. And I realised that all of us masses of people were there for this one thing, Love. So that we can store the love and speed the love.
This is our faith. It doesn’t matter what religion you follow, if your leader of faith teaches Kindness, Compassion and Forgiveness and Gratitude, well then he’s worth a hearing.
The procession of priests in their lime green assisted Pope Francis onto the alter where he began mass . My Ma was just delighted to be receiving mass from Pope Francis and even said she wouldn’t mind going to Rome to see him again. (And Ma is not one for travelling!)
When it was time for ‘Peace be with you’, we shook hands with everybody we could. There was our usual shyness of displays of emotion but an overwhelming sense of peace and quiet in the crowd.
And the finale of it all was The Pope’s Blessing.
It was certainly worth coming to here this man speak new words of apology, shame, regret in the Catholic Church but also of change and non judgement of others and forgiveness and gratitude.
Well done Pope Francis!
Jean xxx

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