September 30 2009 10:50 AM
IT WAS the largest gathering of Irish people ever seen. More than one million people gathered in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on Saturday, September 29, 1979, for the first Papal Mass on Irish soil, more than 1,500 years after St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland.
Over the course of three days, Pope John Paul II preached to almost two and a half million people in nine major addresses in various locations around Ireland.
His Aer Lingus Boeing 747 had crossed the Irish coast near Courtown on Saturday morning, escorted by Irish Air Corps aircraft, and minutes later, they swooped low over the Phoenix Park, as they made their approach to Dublin airport.
As he stepped off the plane at Dublin airport, he kissed the tarmac, and told the assembled dignitaries how happy he was to walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick.
In the following days, he visited Dublin, Drogheda, Clonmacnois, Galway, Knock, Maynooth, Limerick and Shannon. During this time, he delivered several talks, sermons and addresses, including an address to the Irish Government, and a ‘special broadcast address to the Sick’ on RTÉ radio and television.
A 116 foot high steel cross painted white, was especially erected for the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park, and it remains there today. More than 150 cardinals, bishops and priests concelebrated Mass with the Pope, and around 2,000 priests distributed Communion to the crowds who were arranged in corrals, so they could better see the Pope when he made his way through the crowds in the ‘Popemobile’ afterwards.
Thousands of people from Wicklow travelled to see the Pope at the various locations around the country, some of them acting as stewards, helping out with medical duties, or singing in the massive national choir in the Phoenix Park.
The Pope also met with representatives from other Churches in Cabra, and then with members of the Irish cabinet, led by the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, and also memWITH THE thirtieth anniversary of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland occurring this week, the date holds special memories for Arklow Parish Priest Fr. Martin Cosgrove who was ordained in the very same week.
‘I was ordained the Saturday before the Pope arrived and I remember very well the huge sense of excitement. I had prepared for years to become a priest and here was this great coincidence. It was such a huge event and an extraordinary weekend. It galvanised the entire country in a unity of purpose and spirit,’ he said.
In the same week Pope John Paul II visited the seminary in Maynooth where Fr. Cosgrove and the other newly ordained bers of the Irish Diplomatic Corps and the media.
The following morning he met with disabled children in the grounds of Cabra Convent, and then with members of the Polish community in Ireland.
Then it was off in his helicopter to Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon, where around 20,000 people greeted him. Then, in Galway, around 200,000 mainly young people attended a Youth Mass on Ballybrit Racecourse. The Mass had been organised by Bishop Eamonn Casey of Galway, and the crowd had been entertained by ‘singing priest’ Fr. Michael Cleary before the Pope’s arrival, and it was during his visit to Galway, that the Pope uttered the famous words ‘Young people of Ireland, I love you!’ to huge cheering and song.
Some 450,000 people then saw him when he arrived in Knock. He called the Knock Shrine the ‘goal’ of his journey to Ireland. In one prayer he prayed for those hurt by violence in Northern Ireland.
On his final day in Ireland, he went to Maynooth, where he addressed the clergy, students, and some 50,000 people. Here, he urged the clergy and sisters to go back to wearing their clerical and religious dress. Finally some 400,000 people gathered at the Greenpark Racecourse outside Limerick. At Shannon Airport, President Hillery and Cardinal O’Fiach bade farewell to him. President Hillery told him his memory would remain ‘forever bright’ in the hearts of the people of Ireland.
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