When the Holy Father visits Ireland on the 25 and 26 of this month to participate in the World Meeting of Families which is being held in Dublin, he will find a different Ireland than the one that greeted Pope John Paul II, 39 years ago. The crowds will dwindle.
According to the Central Office of Statistics of the Catholic Church, on 31 December 2016, before the abortion referendum that was apprfoved in May 2018, of the 7 million inhabitants of Ireland, 5.3 million declared themselves Catholic. That translates to 76 catholics in every 100 persons.
The Catholic Church had 26 dioceses, 1359 parishes, 40 pastoral centres spread over a territory of 84,405 sqaure kilometres.
Two years ago, the persons involved in pastoral work in the country included 56 Bishops, 2,542 diocesan priests, 1793 religious priests, 132 permanent deacons, 764 nuns, 97 members of secular institutes and 2,367 cathecists.
In Ireland there are 10 minor seminarists and 150 major seminarists.
The Catholic Church in Ireland runs a very big number of schools the future of which is in the balance as government is preparing another referendum this time targeting Catholic Schools. But at the end of 2016 in the Irish Republic there where 3,375 kindergartens and primary schools that were owned or directed by the Church and catered for 526,640 students, 599 medium and secondary schools for 318,030 students and nine higher schools and universities attended by 22,775 students.
As this was not enough, the Catholic Church or religious orders manage 21 hospitals, 36 homes for senior citizens or invalid persons, 33 orphanages, 57 family councelling centres, 8 specialised social educational centres and three other institutions.
The Pope’s first stop in Ireland will be to the residence of Ireland’s president, where he will be welcomed at the Phoenix Monument by Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina
He will then meet with assorted luminaries including Leo Varadkar, the Prime Minister at Dublin Castle at noon before visiting St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral at 3.30pm and the Capuchin Day Centre for the homeless on Arran Quay at 4.30pm.
At 7.45pm, he will speak at the Festival of Families concert at Croke Park, headlining a bill that also includes Andrea Bocelli and Daniel O’Donnell.
On Sunday, the Pope will fly to Knock in County Mayo, complete with Popemobile, to visit the Apparition Chapel where he will lead the recitation of the Angelus before an audience of an anticipated 45,000.
He will finally return to Dublin for “a modest lunch” with his delegation, give the papal mass at the World Meeting of Families gathering in Phoenix Park – the centrepiece of his visit – before meeting with the Irish Bishops at the Convent of the Domincan Sisters in Cabra. No doubt exhausted, Pope Francis will finally jet back to the Vatican from Dublin Airport on Sunday evening via a business class seat on Aer Lingus.