Showing Ireland Jesus’ beating heart

Showing Ireland Jesus’ beating heart
The View


In just a few days Pope Francis will come to Ireland for the World Meeting of the Families. It will be a brief visit and its primary focus will be the family, not the whole Church in Ireland, nor its future nor its past. So what can we realistically expect will happen and what might be the impact and long term effect of this second visit of a Pope to Ireland, in the history of the Catholic Church?

This is not a state visit, rather Francis comes to participate in the World Meeting of Families, but of course, when the global leader of the world’s 1.3bn Catholics visits any country, it is a very significant moment.

His actions, those to whom he speaks in private, those whom he meets in public, his speeches, will all be analysed and conclusions will be drawn about his priorities, his understanding of the situation of the Church here in Ireland and in the world, and whether he is just a well-intentioned elderly man who ‘talks the talk but does not walk the walk.’


A huge burden rests on the Pope as he comes to Ireland, and we should pray that he will have strength and courage, and that his integrity will shine forth for all the people, energising us and focusing us again on why we are Church, what it means to be Church, and what lies at the core of our membership of Church – the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for each of us and our belief, our knowledge that Jesus is our Saviour and Redeemer – rarely heard words maybe, in this modern secular world, but nevertheless the foundation of all that we are.

My deepest wish is that somehow he will reinforce our understanding that we are called to love as Jesus loved, giving all and asking nothing back in return, that we will be able to see more clearly in all his children, born and yet to be born, the living face of Christ, and that we will respond to each other as Christ responded to everyone he met on the way to Calvary, caring for and nourishing everyone, understanding more fully that this world is not ours, that our lives are not ours alone, but that we are part of the great work of God in the world He made, terrifying though that may seem on occasion.

For the awful reality is that it can be so much easier to walk through our lives, concerned about ourselves and our immediate families, responding with generosity to the occasional calls for famine relief, for help at times of great tragedy, but generally just living in our own little cocoon, undisturbed by so much of what happens around us.

I travel Ireland on a fairly regular basis, I see the ageing congregations, the many older priests, and the endless assaults on our Church by those who would portray the Church as the source of evil, of child abuse and terrible treatment of the ordinary people in years gone by.

Such abusive and criminal behaviour is present everywhere in the world. It should not have been present in the Church because of our call to love. Yet it was a very real and terrible part of the history of the Church in Ireland.

We cannot deny it and we should not forget it. We must use the right language to describe what happened: so many crimes against little children, the awful treatment, on occasion criminal, of vulnerable women and single mothers, the restrictions on the ability of the laity, male and female, to play a proper role.


In part this was the product of the way in which the world as a whole developed, a world in which authority, power and control were prized and abused. It was not just the Church in Ireland or across the world which lost its way. We must remember, because it is in remembering that we can at least ensure that, within ourselves as Church in Ireland, these things never happen again.

Of course, the reality also includes so much that was good – many of those now in power were educated through the work and self-sacrifice of so many of our Catholic predecessors.

Health and education, and very often a home, were provided largely not by the State, but by those who laboured in orphanages, hospitals, schools, social services, often as religious or priests and often living relatively simple lives, owning nothing and giving their all.

The Catholic Church provided a structure for society through its institutions, a structure which is replicated across the world and which is often the last thing left standing when war and conflict ravage a state. I have seen the United Nations look to surviving Catholic priests and parishes as a route through which order can be restored, confidence won and trust in the normal structures of society can be re-established.

We must remember that too. The reason why the Catholic Church remains in those war-torn countries, inadequate though it may be, is that Catholics believe that they are called to live loving God and all his people.

At this time of ongoing difficulty in Ireland, I hope that we will find the strength and the courage to see ourselves as we are, each of us capable of great good, but capable also of causing great harm. That is how it is in families too. Living as family is not always easy, but it provides the centre which binds us together, no matter how flawed we are.

I am sure that during WMOF2018 there will be acknowledgment of and repentance for the crimes of the past, for the failures, for the institutional defensiveness, for the arrogance, for the lies, for the cover up. WMOF2018 cannot solve or restore all the harms of the past. It can reinforce our understanding of the complexities and importance of family, of the need to care for one another.

We must be prepared to fight homelessness, enable families to have affordable homes, and live in them in peace, not endlessly worrying about where the rent money or mortgage payment is going to come from.

Ireland is rapidly dividing further, as those who have property extract every possible last euro from it, regardless of the fate of those who do not, not because of any failing on their part, but simply because they don’t.


We must have a proper health service where people don’t face death and illness because they have been let down by those paid to care for them.

Our people must acknowledge that they have to work properly in the interests of all, not just doing the minimum and allowing some people to have a very good lifestyle whilst others suffer every day through poverty and marginalisation.

We must also improve our Church’s accountability structures so that we do all we can to ensure integrity, to enable real challenge. Corruption and evil are cyclical.

They will never be fully solved. We must remain alert and do all we can to create structures which are endlessly self-critical.


There must be never again be a system in which evil can go unchallenged. It will be very hard and difficult work. We will have to change radically our systems and our Canon Law. We will have to do it rapidly.

The Church in Ireland can reveal again that part of itself which is true to Christ, that part which lives and loves as we are called to live and love. We can show secular Ireland that the Church lives, that it is not a threat, but rather a contributor to the common good, because at its core lies the beating heart of Jesus, loving and watching over it.