Pope’s trip is moment to set our gaze on a better future

Pope’s trip is moment to set our gaze on a better future

Ask practising Catholics to tell you about their Church and their faith, and on the whole, you get glowing reports. There will be complaints, and stories of inadequacies, and reservations about this or that teaching, and no one knows the faults of the Church — collectively, and in this or that place — better than those who actively belong.

But Catholics will also tell you that the Church is a place of love and welcome, of growth and healing, of support and nurture, of wisdom and of grace, of unconditional acceptance, which plays a key role in bringing forth a more humane, caring world. Here’s the great, unreported story of our time: Catholics love the Church.

Hence their frustration with the very different picture of the Church often portrayed in the media, where it appears dogmatic, intolerant, and judgmental, an institution that seeks its own interests, that imposes and excludes. In short: a ‘no’ instead of a ‘yes.’ Very often, ordinary decent Catholics won’t recognise their Church as it is sometimes portrayed in the media. It’s not that they reject the legitimate criticisms of their Church (and God knows there has been much to criticise), but they realise that it is not the full picture.


After three years of careful preparation, the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis is upon us. A friend at WMOF headquarters in Dublin recently reported on the atmosphere with just days to go. “Walking up and down the corridor here in Clonliffe today,” she wrote, “and it’s all mums and dads giving advice and instructions to family members about dinner, shopping, lifts, food and times they will be home at.

“The effort being made here by colleagues to make WMOF2018 a wonderful event for all those attending is immense,” she wrote.

It put me to thinking that the story of the Church is really the story of countless hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who seek nothing other than to be of service to their fellow men and women.

It is the stories of mothers and fathers passing on the Faith in difficult circumstances. It is the story of religious sisters and brothers living their lives alongside some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. It is the story of priests trekking vast distances in developing countries to bring people the consolation of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.

That is what Irish Catholics will be celebrating during the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis. Obviously, the horrors of the Church’s failings on issues like abuse loom large, and survivors and victims will be in the prayers and thoughts of everyone participating in coming days. Catholics long for their Church to prove that it is a place that takes wrongdoing seriously and that there is no place within it for those who would do harm to children.

Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said recently that in remembering the achievements of the Church, it is also right to remember the darker moments in our history. This is right and proper.

Papal trips aren’t magic, but they are momenta of singular grace for the particular Church that the Chief Shepherd of the Church visits. Pope Francis in exercising his Petrine ministry in Ireland will be confirming our Faith and encouraging us to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ.

WMOF2018 and the visit of Pope Francis is a moment to lift up our hearts and look towards a brighter future. The history of the ancient Israelites shows us that the way forward is not in the past, or hankering back to fabled glory days that truth be told never really existed.

The Promised Land is always before us. It is this on which we should fix our gaze. Come Holy Spirit.