Posted On August, 31 - 2018
Photo Credit: Pat McKeon, WMOF2018 volunteer
People in Ireland always turn out: they make the effort – put in the miles. Today was no exception; they did so in their droves, accompanied by friends and family from across the globe, converging on Phoenix Park for their beloved Pope, festooned with flags, banners and even the odd inflatable mascot.
The journey was lengthier and more arduous for some than others. Dina Zahid is the principal of St. Paul’s Catholic school in Lahore, Pakistan. She’s been visiting Ireland since May and gave birth to her second child, Eoin, by emergency C-section last month.
At home, her husband and daughter were excited at the idea of her being in the presence of Pope Francis. And her own emotion and joy to be present was obvious: as she spoke to me, tears trickled down her face.
“I feel very privileged to be here,” she said. “I come from a family of very strong faith; my sister-in-law is a nun and my first cousin is a Priest. My parents passed on the faith to me and my siblings.”
It was a big sacrifice for her to attend. “I decided to come even though the long walk was difficult for me following my caesarean,” she said “I had to leave Eoin at home with my friend Liryn because I wanted to be here for my family.
“I also wanted to be here for my country,” Dina added. “Most Pakistanis who applied for visas to come here, were refused them. So I’m here for them too.” This was her first time to see a Pope. Pope John Paul II visited Pakistan in 1981, two years before Dina was born. It’s time for a revisit, she thinks. “I want Pope Francis to visit us!” she said with a laugh.
Closer to home, in fact literally from home, were some people that I was very keen to catch. In all, about 100 people travelled from the Parish of Maghera, Northern Ireland. Finding them, I thought would be a breeze; I’d casually wander into their designated area and they’d immediately spring up to meet me, their southern-living prodigal daughter. How wrong I was! Firstly it took some time to figure out the “corral system” and then when I did, a blustery shower hit the Park and everyone retreated deeper into their multi-layered clothes. For a while, in the driving rain, I recognised no-one and no-one recognised me until I eventually spotted Virginia, the kindly Filipina lady who runs the Parish Office. And instantly I felt that warm and soothing sense of home again.
Among those who travelled from Newcastle were Maurice and Patricia Lavery and their four children: Leon (11) Arlo (10), Rowan (8) and Rosanna (6). To the strains of the opening hymn of the Papal Mass, Patricia generously spoke to me about her faith and the reasons behind her family’s trip.
“We came to welcome our Pope,” Patricia said “and support his visit to Ireland. We also came to show the other side of the Catholic faith because it has been getting such a hard time recently.” She likes Pope Francis because whilst he is accessible and ordinary, he is also charismatic.
Their journey wasn’t without effort. The family left Newcastle at 7am, arrived into the city in pouring rain and had been shivering in the Park since 1.15pm
For Patricia and her family, faith is central to their lives. “It is at the core of our family. We try and extend our faith to our children and an occasion like this brings it to life and gives it a whole new dimension.” And then, as if on cue, the kids bounced over and told me how important the day was to them and how they’d come to see, as Leon put it, their uncle’s boss. (Patricia’s brother is a Priest.)
For the Keaveney Family, the reasons were broadly similar. Roisin and Eamon remember the last Pope’s visit and felt it was important to bring their son Luca and daughter Ebony on this once in a lifetime pilgrimage. Ebony (9) told me she saw him from her Daddy’s shoulders and that she liked his hair. “He’s a very holy man,” she said.
(Pictured, clockwise from top left: Dina Zahid, Maeve's godson, Finn, The Keaveney Family, The McFarnons, The Lavery Family.
Photo Credit: Maeve Boyle)
But distance was not the only indicator of significant effort. Áine Carvill is Head of News for Spirit Radio. She is also my cousin. She, her sister Eimear and Eimear’s four children Aoife, Connell, Cairenn and Finn (my 3-year-old godson) were also at Phoenix Park. For them, the journey had a very particular and difficult emotional hardship as they lost their mother, Bid, a month ago. So it was very important to me that we should share the Mass together as a family.
“I’m here for me, and for Mummy and Daddy,” Áine said fighting back the tears. “They passed on the faith to us and I now want to pass it on to my nephews and nieces.” Both Aine and Eimear came here to see the Pope in 1979. They remember it well; the adventure of it all - leaving Rostrevor at night and walking in the dark to Phoenix Park.
And that, for me, is what Sunday was all about. Person after person that I chatted to - the Laverys, the Keaveneys, the Carvills, the Gribbens from Hilltown and the Packhams from Lucan, remembering the visit of Pope John Paul II, saw themselves as part of a movement – an ancient line of faith-givers. For this was an outpouring of effort from one generation to the next, a passing on of the baton of faith in the relay race of life.
If it is true that we learn by example and experience, then the future of the faith is secure in the hands of the children who were present in Phoenix Park. So somewhere in the future – maybe 30 years from now - I hope my godson, Finn, will be taking his children to see a Pope.
27 August 2018