Watch: Pope hopes Irish visit will foster ‘unity and reconciliation’ as thousands attend opening of the World Meeting of Families

  • Pope Francis said he is excited to visit Ireland this weekend
  • He called for unity and reunification among Christians
  • The World Meeting of Families officially got underway on Tuesday
  • Vatican confirmed the Pope would hold a private meeting with victims of church abuse during his visit

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Pope Francis
Pope Francis (John Stillwell/PA)

The Pope has expressed hope his visit to Ireland will help grow unity and reconciliation among Christians.

In a video message released ahead of his weekend arrival, Pope Francis said he was excited about his two-day trip to Dublin and the Knock holy shrine in Co Mayo.

The video was released hours after it was confirmed that the Pope will meet victims of clerical sex abuse during his Irish visit.

The video message coincided with the opening of the major family-themed event in Dublin on Tuesday evening.

“Although the specific reason for my visit to Ireland is the World Meeting of Families, I would like to include all the members of the Irish family,” said the Pope.

“In a particular way, I pray that it may further the growth of unity and reconciliation among all Christ’s followers, as a sign of that lasting peace which is God’s dream for our whole human family.”



Cardinal Kevin Farrell (left) and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA WireCardinal Kevin Farrell (left) and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Cardinal Kevin Farrell (left) and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In opening the message, the pontiff said: “As I prepare to visit Ireland in a few days’ time for the World Meeting of Families, I send a warm word of greeting to all the Irish people. I am excited at the thought of returning to Ireland.”

The Pope is not due to travel to Northern Ireland during his visit, despite being urged by religious figures on both sides of the region’s sectarian divide to travel across the border.

The World Meeting of Families (WMOF) officially got underway on Tuesday evening as thousands descended on Dublin’s Royal Dublin Society (RDS) to attend the opening ceremony.

Church bells were rung simultaneously across Ireland’s 26 dioceses to launch the five-day Catholic congress. Prayers were also said throughout the dioceses.

More than 37,000 people from 116 different countries are expected to attend the RDS for a series of events as part of the Catholic festival.

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Hundreds of thousands more will attend the celebrations that will be led by Pope Francis this weekend in Dublin and Knock.



Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA WireArchbishop Diarmuid Martin during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The WMOF will culminate with the closing papal mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday.

The event has gained huge significance since the Pope made a statement on Monday apologising for the atrocities of clerical sexual abuse.

In a letter to the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics, Pope Francis said the Church needed to move to end the culture of death within it.

The opening ceremony, which was entitled Le Cheile le Criost, or Together with Christ, included hymns, psalms and prayers for the entire human family before God.



A general view of the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA WireA general view of the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A general view of the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In his homily, the Archbishop of Dublin welcomed the thousands of international visitors to the country.

Families and pilgrimage groups will travel from as far as Africa, Canada, Europe, Australia and India to partake.

Diarmuid Martin said: “There are those who would look at the World Meeting as some sort of ideological gathering to celebrate a type of family which probably does not exist.

“Whatever of the past, here in Dublin the World Meeting is something much more profound: it is to reflect the opening words of our reading: ‘You are God’s chosen race; he loves you’.”

Dr Martin added: “The family is not a remote ideological notion but the place where compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and forgiveness are learned, practised and spread.”

The archbishop said family life has changed in Ireland.

“It may seem a strange thing to say, but we have to find ways of ensuring that these new relationships and challenges in family culture become ‘clothed in love’,” Dr Martin said.

“Only the power of love can purify and restore our Church and us and our society.”

He added: “We thank God for the at times immense sacrifice that exists in the love within families.

“We pray for those who have never experienced such love or from whom such love was stolen through abuse or neglect.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Vatican confirmed the Pope would hold a private meeting with victims of church abuse during his visit.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by revelations of wrongdoing by members of the religious orders stretching back decades.

One campaigner said survivors of clerical sex abuse are hoping for real action after they meet Pope Francis.

Earlier this week, the leader of the world church condemned the “atrocities” of child sex abuse and clerical cover-ups in a strongly-worded open letter to the faithful.

Maeve Lewis, executive director of the One In Four Irish charity for those affected by sexual abuse, said: “If the Pope is in an open, listening mode when he meets the survivors he can learn a lot about the terrible devastation of sex abuse and how people feel let down.

“If he makes any promises to survivors in terms of actions he should follow through on that.

“It would be terribly hurtful if the meeting (produced) no concrete outcome as a result of this.”

The Pope is due to arrive in Dublin on Saturday for two days of meetings with families and political authorities, as well as a trip to the Knock shrine, which is revered by Catholics.

Kate Walmsley, 62, suffered sex abuse at the hands of a priest.

She said: “If he is the head of the Catholic Church then he is the person we need to talk to to put forward the wrongs all the children have suffered and I am one of them.”

Protesters have arranged a series of rallies coinciding with the pontiff’s trip to Ireland to highlight what they believe has been the church’s failure to properly address wrongdoing.

Ms Lewis said it would have been an “insult” had the Pope not met survivors.

She said some would very much want to engage while others would avoid him due to a sense of “betrayal”.

Last week a grand jury report outlined seven decades of abuse in Pennsylvania.

The investigation found more than 1,000 children had been abused by 300 priests.

The Pope has apologised after defending a bishop in Chile who was accused of hiding abuses by a priest.

Ireland is gearing up for its first papal visit in 40 years during which at least half a million people are expected to attend a special mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

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