Bookmarking the pope’s visit

This improvised bookmark was left in a second-hand paperback I picked up recently. It’s a Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) rail ticket to see Pope John Paul II on his visit to the Phoenix Park in Dublin in autumn 1979.

Whoever owned the ticket probably kept it as a memento of what became a milestone in modern Irish history — in some ways a turning point in our sense of ourselves. More than half of Ireland’s population attended a papal appearance during the historic three-day tour; it’s estimated that over a third went to see the pope in the Phoenix Park. Some places, such as Knock, came to a temporary standstill.

Such reverence is unimaginable today for many reasons. One stands out. A great many children in the care of the Catholic church were not exactly given return tickets to the park. Systematic abuse, its subsequent denial, and the reneging of responsibility, accountability, and basic humanity, revealed to the previously unaware a deep dark void where the moral centre of the institution ought to be.

Ireland’s complex relationship with the church is, for better and worse, part of our cultural and psychological heritage. In the midst of evil acts perpetrated by the powerful on the vulnerable, silence was ever complicit. Ours is a nation famed for its talkativeness, but we have a lesser known talent for leaving things unsaid. The pope’s last words before boarding at Shannon Airport were: “Ireland — semper fidelis, always faithful.” I think that was part of the problem.

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6 Responses to Bookmarking the pope’s visit

  1. John Cowan says:

    “And remember now, I’ve said nothing.” Eight hundred years’ worth of conspiracy can take you there. Eugene O’Neill’s plays told us sixty years ago and more what the individual human cost of that attitude is.

    — Eoghan Mac Eoghain

  2. Claudia says:

    The problem is that people have been led to believe that the Pope is God impersonated. Once you understand that God has nothing at all to do with organised religions, it’s very easy to kick them out your system and daily life. We did in Quebec since the 60s. The churches are closing, the religious congregations are dying, and the education of our children is totally out of their hands. There are so few vocations that, to celebrate Mass in the few parishes still opened, the churches have to import the French-speaking African priests they had converted years ago.

    We called this, “La Révolution tranquille” (The Quiet Revolution.) It’s feasible. I wish Ireland would finally get angry enough to do it. After all, like Ireland, Quebec (since its birth) was bound to the Church through its history, language and culture. We removed the shackles. It’s true that, with us, it had been only 300 years of propaganda and deep influence. In Ireland, it has been thousands of years….

    I wish you all the best!

  3. It must have been about that time that the Boomtown Rats released Banana Republic. That is a song that has stuck in my mind, esecially the line “The black and blue uniforms Police and priests”

    How Ireland has changed!

  4. Stan says:

    John: I’m sorry to say I haven’t read Eugene O’Neill’s work.

    Claudia: Ireland could do with a similar revolution. There’s a lot of anger in the country, but I rarely see it focused in a constructive way; instead we complain, and scapegoat, and occasionally march, generally to little or no effect. Societal transformation happens first and foremost at a personal level, but this is seldom acknowledged. Attributing blame can be cathartic, but it shouldn’t serve to avoid accepting a measure of personal responsibility for the mess we’re in. Renouncing religion has potential pitfalls, too, if one lacks a set of sound values or principles to live by. People become susceptible to other forms of worship — profit, for example — which can be very destructive.

    Jams: It has changed a great deal in a short space of time. I hope it keeps changing, and in better ways: I’d rather not have to cancel my optimist’s card!

  5. What a fascinating thing to find in a book! I love finding old letters, or inscriptions, or oddities, in second-hand books. I recently picked up a copy of a Delmore Schwartz book in Wexford and found in the back a postcard and a letter, written in different hands, which I plan on posting on my blog now that my internet is back up and running. They make a curious and very interesting little narrative… (Thanks as well for the link to my little rant.)

  6. Stan says:

    Doubtful: Yes, it was like a secret story hidden in the book. I have no idea whose bookmark it was, what they were like, or what the pope’s visit meant to them, but finding the bookmark invited imaginings along these lines.

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