Cheers and Tears, Joy and Pride in Croke Park

Posted On August, 26 - 2018 Cheers and Tears, Joy and Pride in Croke Park Image
Photo Credit: Maxwell Photography

Instead of county jerseys and flags there were colourful costumes from around the world along with Papal and national flags from many different countries on display on the approach roads and within Croke Park for the WMOF2018 Festival of Families, bringing a truly international, multi-cultural flavour to the venue.

Throughout the evening, one act followed another promptly in a very slick, professional presentation.  I loved the hauntingly beautiful 12th century Irish hymn, Deus Meus Adiuva Me, performed by The Priests with Triona and MairĂ©ad Ni Dhomhnaill.  The backdrop on the screen behind the main stage took its inspiration from the art of the Book of Kells.

Photo Credit: Maxwell Photography

The first family testimony brought a tear to my eye. Alan Kerins spoke about the power of family which had supported him and his wife when their baby son Ruadhan was ill.  When his wife joined him with Ruadhan, now a healthy toddler, he got a huge reception.  It struck a chord as I thought of the power, love and support of my own family, particularly my parents who both passed away in the past two years and how I was able to support them in their old age as they had supported me when I was young.  I owe so much to them not least for their gifts of faith, hope and charity.

Another tear in my eye and lump in my throat appeared when watching Nathan Carter sing Everybody Hurts, accompanied by the Holy Family Deaf Choir and the DeafTones with their beautiful sign language.  The Ballymun Primary Schools Choir also joined them.  The lyrics are powerful and true - everyone does hurt and feel down at times – hopefully, when we feel this way, we will feel the support we need to continue, as we are not alone.

We were seated in the Hogan Stand.  When Davide Antochi, the boy soprano for the beautiful From Way Up Here, sang from the top of the opposite stand, rather than the stage, I was mesmerised.  The Palestrina Boy and Pro Cathedral Girl choristers accompanied him wonderfully while aerialist Lee Claydon’s balletic performance against the backdrop of the world added to the beauty of the performance. 

Photo Credit: Gayl Kennedy

Cuthbert Arutura from Zimbabwe who came to Ireland as an immigrant spoke movingly of his welcome here and showed great dance moves also as he joined in the rendition of Freedom which featured Dana Masters on lead vocal with the choirs and dancers.

Patrick Bergin’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem was drowned out when the Pope arrived and proceeded to be driven around and through the crowds on the pitch.  Cameras flashed, people cheered and clapped, flags were waved and hands outstretched to make contact with the Holy Father.  

It is many years now since I first saw a performance of Riverdance, but the passion, energy and skill of the performers and wonderful musical score never fail to move me as it builds and builds with more dancers joining the performance.  This time, along with the troupe on the stage, there were 500 children from dance schools around Ireland around the sides of the stadium who joined in to add to the spectacle, energy and noise.  It was uplifting and made me proud of my Irish culture.  It also tied back to Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical about the environment as the lyrics from the introduction to Riverdance speak about the river living to nourish you, cherish you.

More family testimonies followed; the D’Costa family from Mumba, India, spoke about the challenge of containing time spent on technology in the ‘virtual world’, in order to make time for each other face to face, while the D’Andrea family from Canada spoke about importance of the role of Grandparents within the family and how much they have to offer their grandchildren and children.

The Bob Dylan song, Forever Young, was sung by the choir and we all reacted to the audience shots on the big screen which included a lady with a Papal doll and a touching moment which looked to be a grandson giving his granny a hug. 

The testimony of the family from Iraq – relatives of martyred Fr. Ragheed Ganni, was sad and brought home to us the horror of war and the terror of living under the threat of ISIS, along with the hope arising as their village rebuilds with support from the international community.

Missy Collins spoke movingly about the fight by the Traveller community in Ireland for their rights and there was a fun moment when a younger member of that group posed for a selfie with the Pope – if you don’t have the selfie it didn’t happen!

Photo Credit: Pat McKeon, WMOF2018 volunteer

The High Hopes choir performed a wonderful version of the Kodaline song of the same name before the testimony from the Richardson family from Meath who spoke about their struggle with and escape from heroin addiction. 

Andrea Bocelli and Celine Byrne’s Ave Maria was absolutely beautiful and a fitting tribute to Our Lady prior to the final testimony about forgiveness in the family presented by Issac Chokki Abilogun and family from Burkina Faso, Africa. 

In his address, Pope Francis reiterated the key points from the family testimonies.  His speech was shown on the big screens in English and when he ad-libbed, a translator was on hand to translate as required.  He showed his sense of humour, asking us to reiterate the three key phrases “Sorry”, “please” and “thank you”, encouraging us to say it loud, say it proud as ‘he could not hear us’!

He even included mother and daughters-in-law in his speech, often the subject of jokes and encouraged us to make up the same day not to be tempted to sleep in a separate room if we have a disagreement as that will only lead to a “cold war”.

Celine Byrne sang the poignant Irish hymn, Ag Chriost an Siol, as Pope Francis departed the stadium before Andrea Bocelli returned for the classic, Nessun Dorma, which was beautiful.  People lit up the stadium with their mobile phones to accompany the powerful, passionate performance.  For the grand finale, all the artists came back to sing Amen, Amen, Amen to bring the unique evening to a close.

Walking back to the city there were people selling papal flags, candles and tee-shirt souvenirs of the visit.  Closer to home a fox crossed the road in front of me which is not an unusual sight; a few minutes later it was a badger which I had not seen in the city before, both of which reminded me of the montage of God’s creatures on the big screen during one of the songs, I think it was The Deer’s Cry sung by Rita Connolly, which incorporated the beautiful St Patrick’s Breastplate and the Pope’s message about the interconnectedness of man and nature.  Plenty of food for thought from what I had seen and heard at Croke Park.

Gayl Kennedy
Volunteer Blogger

25 August 2018

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