By Father Christopher R. Heanue
We are told that the Church is a family and that we, though many, are all part of one body, the Church. We, as Catholics, participate in a larger family – a global one – one which we are reminded of each and every time we attend Mass. Found in the midst of the second Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays, “Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity… ,” as a reminder to pray for our global family.
The Diocese of Brooklyn traveled as a family of close to 50 pilgrims to welcome Pope Francis to Ireland for the celebration of the World Meeting of Families. Our pilgrimage allowed us the opportunity to travel through the West of Ireland a few days before greeting the Holy Father in Dublin. Uniting us from our many walks of life, we traveled as one – uniting together as our own family to represent the Diocese of Brooklyn at this spectacular event.
As the coordinator of the Irish Ministry for the diocese, it was a privilege to be present for the first papal visit to Ireland in 40 years. Although I was not yet born during St. John Paul II’s visit in 1979, a sermon preached by him in County Limerick can prove to be very prophetic for the country I love so much.
In his sermon, the future saint warns the people of Ireland that they must choose the path before them. He said:
“Ireland must choose. You the present generation of Irish people must decide; your choice must be clear and your decision firm. Let the voice of your forefathers, who suffered so much to maintain their faith in Christ and thus to preserve Ireland’s soul, resound today in your ears when you hear the words of Christ: ‘What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his life?’ (Mt 16:26). What would it profit Ireland to go the easy way of the world and suffer the loss of her own soul?
‘A Generation of Decision’
“Your country seems in a sense to be living again the temptations of Christ: Ireland is being asked to prefer the ‘kingdoms of the world and their splendour’ to the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 4:8). Satan, the Tempter, the Adversary of Christ, will use all his might and all his deceptions to win Ireland for the way of the world. What a victory he would gain, what a blow he would inflict on the Body of Christ in the world, if he could seduce Irish men and women away from Christ. Now is the time of testing for Ireland. This generation is once more a generation of decision.”
These words echoed in my heart as I prepared for Pope Francis’ visit. In the past 40 years, the Catholic Church in Ireland has witnessed a decline in drastic numbers. Years of scandals within the church has angered many, and tainted – perhaps even ruined – the faith of many more. The church in Ireland has lost its voice on issues within the public sphere. Since St. John Paul’s visit, Ireland has legalized same-sex marriage, and more recently, voted to legalize the killing of human life in the womb of a mother. The church in Ireland is wounded – our family in Ireland is suffering.
Highlighting the Issues
Nonetheless, our weekend with Pope Francis was an unforgettable one! On Saturday evening, the Holy Father attended the World Meeting of Families event which was a spectacular occasion highlighting many different issues concerning our families. Families spoke of refugees, drug addiction, social media usage, care for the elderly, as well as other important issues.
The family testimonies were intermingled with various songs and performances – one of which included 500 young Irish step-dancers, dancing with the cast of Riverdance. Thanks to the leadership of our diocesan director of pilgrimages, Father Gerard Sauer, our group from Brooklyn and Queens had phenomenal seats for this event and were within feet of the Holy Father as he drove around the ring of the arena greeting the faithful.
Sunday included Mass at Phoenix Park in Dublin where Pope Francis greeted the crowds, and more importantly, he spoke powerful words begging for forgiveness for the many terrible acts committed by the Church in the past. These petitions of forgiveness were especially powerful as they were used in place of the penitential rite of the Mass – the point of the Mass where we call to mind our sins and ask for pardon and mercy.
While much has passed between 1979 and 2018 within the country I love so much – one thing still remains: our family of Catholics. And though we are smaller in numbers and wounded, we unite together in prayer and solidarity for our family.