Historic happenings at the World Meeting of Families
2018-09-01 17:08:08 -


By John-Kingsley Kelechi Onwumereh


Concluding with the Papal Mass 26 August at Dublin’s Phoenix Park, the World Meeting of Families, which kicked off on 21 August, came to an end with a lot of mixed feelings.

The entire event had most people expressing varying degrees of accolade, joy and regret that the beautiful events had to come to an end. The best of the accolades is reserved for the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who continues to astonish for the ease with which he conducted his very busy schedule.

For most of the people who met him, or followed his itinerary in Ireland, the pontiff’s message of family, love, mercy, forgiveness and hope is matched by his energy and positive nature over the two days he was in Ireland.

Kicking off the week of events, opening ceremonies and Masses were held simultaneously in the RDS and several parishes across the country on Tuesday 21 August, followed by activities for locals and international pilgrims alike from Wednesday to Friday. Seminars, workshops and exhibitions by several religious orders and professionals providing therapy, advice and support for families and individuals were features at the World Meeting of Families events at the RDS.

On Friday 24 August, Masses were held simultaneously in several parts of Dublin to formally welcome international delegates and pilgrims arriving from all the continents of the world.

The event for African delegates took place at St Peter’s in Phibsborough with some 300 pilgrims attending. Chief celebrant of the Mass was the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, who was ably supported by the chaplain of the African Chaplaincy, Fr Cornelius Nwaogwugwu, six visiting bishops and over 60 priests. The gala night which followed offered an opportunity for people to interact and to enjoy Irish and African entertainment.

Pope Francis himself arrived on Saturday 25 August, the first Pope to visit Ireland in 39 years, and as his first engagement paid a courtesy visit to President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Áras an Uachtaráin, where he signed the visitors book in which he expressed his delight and gratitude for the warm welcome by the Irish people.

The Pope was then joined by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in a meeting with authorities, past leaders, civil society, diplomatic corps and clergy from several denominations and faiths in St Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle. Both leaders delivered poignant and powerful speeches stating the positions of the Irish State and the Catholic Church as it relates to family, religion, faith and the historic incidents of clerical abuses.

Pope Francis then visited the St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin city centre, where he blessed newly married couples. He also listened to the experiences and concerns of both young and older married persons in an ever changing Ireland. In his speech, the Holy Father assured young people that “getting married and sharing your lives is a beautiful thing”, adding that “a marriage with no fights must be boring”. Speaking further, he asked the world to “pray together as a family” and to “live in deep solidarity with those who suffer and are at the edges of society. When you do this with your children, their hearts will gradually fill with generous love for others.”

Later that day, accompanied by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Pope Francis visited the Capuchin Day Centre on Church Street to spend some time with homeless families and individuals, and to listen to the concern of organisations that work with the homeless in an emotional, private meeting.

In another private meeting at the residence of the Papal Nuncio along Navan Road, with victims of clerical child sex abuse and other atrocities committed by representatives of the Catholic Church, the Holy Father referred to those who cover up child abuse as “filth”. Witnesses said that the Pope expressed his frustration with those in the Vatican who aid cover-ups affecting abuse victims, including those incarcerated in industrial schools and mother-and-baby homes.

On Saturday evening, the Pope arrived at Croke Park for the Festival of Families, riding around the venue in his Popemobile to the delight of an estimated 82,000 attendees. The colourful event showcased diversity in music, dance and other presentations that depict the family unit. Stars including Daniel O’Donnell, Nathan Carter and Andrea Bocelli also performed.

The Holy Father had a very important advice for the 21st-century family, urging that social media, though a useful medium for building a network of friendships and solidarity, be used in moderation. He said it was imperative that social media “never becomes a threat to the real-life relationships by imprisoning us in a virtual reality and isolating us from the very real relationships that challenge us to grow.”

On Sunday 26 August, braving the weather, Pope Francis flew to Knock in Co Mayo to visit its shrine. At the adjacent chapel, he observed a moment of silent reflection and later delivered the Angelus and Apostolic blessing before his swift return to Dublin.

Wrapping up the Papal Mass in Phoenix Park was a fitting way to bring the World Meeting of Families to a close and to redirect the spotlight on the next event, which will take place in the Pope’s own adopted city of Rome in 2021.

Most pilgrims that attended were extremely satisfied and hopeful that the events would leave a lasting impact in Ireland and the world.


John-Kingsley Kelechi Onwumereh (KSC) the chair of the Pastoral Council of the African Chaplaincy, Archdiocese Of Dublin.

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