The Irish gather in Rome

Irish pilgrims flocked to Rome for the canonisations

For a country of its size Ireland was well represented in Rome on Sunday. Unofficial estimates put the Irish delegation at about 2,000 with several tricolours fluttering in the gentle breeze during the canonisation Mass in St Peter’s Square.

Most pilgrims had made their reservations as soon as the date for the ceremony was made public last year. Kitty Warren and Rose Ryan who had travelled from New Ross wasted no time in making their plans. “We booked our flights the day the canonisation was announced last autumn,” they said.

Conversations with the pilgrims quickly revealed that, even though it was a double canonisation, there was a deep bond with Pope John Paul. Many pilgrims traced their love for the man to their experience of his 1979 visit to Ireland. “We saw him in Limerick”, “we camped out in Galway”, “we’ll never forget the Phoenix Park”, were common refrains in the pilgrims’ reflections.

The ‘John Paul Generation’ was out in force too. These are the people, many of whom were yet to be born in 1979, who grew up with John Paul as the only Pope they knew.

Adrian Freeney from Stillorgan in Dublin and his wife Cecilia from Mexico braved the crowds and made it into St Peter’s Square for the Mass. “John Paul had an amazing influence on my generation,” Adrian said. “He was a fatherly presence for us. When he died we all felt a loss. John XXIII gave us the gift of the Council and John Paul interpreted it in love.”

Angela Mitchell, a school principal in Dublin, queued all night with her sister Audrey in order to claim a spot in the Square. “I will always remember the experience of seeing John Paul and hearing his words at the World Youth Day in Rome in 2000,” she said. “The canonisation Mass felt a lot like a World Youth Day! It’s been really special to be here.”

A family affair

Br Matthew Martinez, who will be ordained a priest of the Dominican order in his home country of Trinidad later this year, described John Paul as his hero. “I’ve been praying for this day since he died in 2005,” he said.

For many it was a family affair. Mary Teresa Fogarty from Thurles travelled with her daughter Ciara while Anne O’Riordan from Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry came with her daughters Joanne (23) and Mary (20).

Dawn Prendergast (31) from Trim, now working as a tax accountant in Luxembourg had a personal reason to be in Rome. In 2012 Dawn was critically ill with cancer. “I was on my deathbed. My organs were shutting down after a bad reaction to chemotherapy. I prayed non-stop to Pope John Paul in the hospital bed.

“I ended up making a full recovery and I’m here today with my mother, Dolores, to say thank you to JP.”

Eileen Warnock (80) from Kinlough in Co. Leitrim was determined to make a special effort to attend the canonisations. Eileen’s youngest son was born on September 29, 1979 – the day John Paul arrived in Ireland. She named him Karol in honour of the Pope’s visit. She made the pilgrimage to Rome with four of her daughters and her son, James Warnock, Principal at Dean Maguirc College, Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone.

Though most pilgrims spoke of Pope John Paul there was also genuine delight that John XXIII was also being canonised.

Tríona Culloty from Gortskeagh, Drung in Co. Cavan, described how John XXIII had healed her mother of cancer. “I’ve come to say thanks today,” she said. She was in St Peter’s Square with Francis Culloty and Aisling Culloty (13). Eileen O’Grady from Kilgeever, Louisburgh, Co. Mayo said she was always attracted to John XXIII and was delighted to see him canonised.

“Il giorno dei quattro Papi!” (The day of four Popes) might have been the headline on the following day’s papers but Mary Bryson from Longford felt a fifth Pope should be remembered too. “Paul VI shouldn’t be forgotten,” she said. “He had the hard work of implementing the Council after John XXIII.”


Dublin priests Fr Kevin Bartley from Clonskeagh and Fr Paul Coyle from Navan Road parish were among several Irish priests at the Mass. Fr Pat Butler from Clogheen, Co. Tipperary felt the whole occasion was greatly encouraging. “A gathering of Catholics like this really raises you up. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”

Fr Michael McCaughey from Three Patrons parish in Derry said he had come to sample the atmosphere of the event. He was accompanied by Maria Hargan and Mary McLoughlin from Claudy parish in Derry who had also attended John Paul’s funeral and beatification.

Christian Brother, An Bráthar Dónal de Barra, a native of Douglas in Cork city and living now in Blacrock, Dublin, had been in St Peter’s Square on the night John Paul was elected Pope in 1978. “Pope John Paul carried a great devotion to Our Lady and that impressed me. When he became ill he showed great courage and showed the world the value of life. He never spared himself.”

Also among the pilgrims were Tom and Elanor Wiseman from Ashbourne; Mary McDaid from Enniskillen; Teresa Lawless from Westport, and Julie Nolan from Enniskillen with her brother Kevin McDaid.

The only negative note sounded by the pilgrims related to the overcrowding in the streets around the Vatican. Dozens of Irish pilgrims arrived as early as 4.30am for the 10am Mass but had to content themselves with watching it on big screens.

“We didn’t get near the square for the Mass,” one pilgrim said. “But there was something beautiful about being here at all. Both Popes had a gift of gathering the people.

“This weekend they did it again.”