A major security operation swings into action today as Pope Francis arrives in Ireland for what will be the most heavily analyased trip of his papacy.
A multitude of pilgrims are making their way to events in Knock and Dublin in a massive security exercise involving thousands of volunteers and thousands more gardaí, army members, stewards, and emergency personnel.
Members of the public who are not taking part in the events face significant access and traffic restrictions as a result of the operation, in some cases until Tuesday morning.
However, transport and the safety of the public are not the only challenges associated with the visit, as Pope Francis is coming to Ireland at a time when the Church’s authority is seriously diminished by unrelenting child sexual abuse scandals.
Its own top dog on child protection, Boston cardinal Sean O’Malley, who chairs the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was due to speak in Ireland yesterday but had to pull out to deal with criticisms of his office’s failures to act on warnings about sexual offending by now-retired cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Cardinal O’Malley sent a message to be read at the event at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in his absence, in which he describes clerical child sex abuse as “the most crucial issue facing our Church” and suggests that the very survival of the Church is at stake because of it and that the church must own its crimes.
Thousands of people have indicated they will be attending an alternative event in support of victims to coincide with the start of the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park tomorrow. The Stand4Truth event has been organised by clerical abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman, founder of One In Four and a director of Amnesty Ireland.
After speeches at the Garden of Remembrance, people will walk to the former Magdalene laundry at Sean McDermott St to leave messages at the sculpture that commemorates the former residents.
Other public figures, including Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council, and politicians including People Before Profit officials, are boycotting meetings with the Pope today in objection to Church policies.
People Before Profit is holding a gathering to call for the complete separation of Church and State this evening, at a time when the Pope will be preparing to attend a major concert in Croke Park.
Tomorrow Pope Francis, flies into Knock Airport and will preside over services at Knock Shrine from around 10am before flying back to Dublin for Mass in the Phoenix Park at 2.30pm and later returning to Rome.
It is anticipated that more than 1m people who are not physically taking part in the Pope’s visit will follow it on RTÉ radio and television, which will be covering all events beginning with his arrival at Dublin Airport this morning.
Pope Francis will travel directly to Áras an Uachtaráin to see the President and then move on to Dublin Castle, where he will have a brief private talk with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and meet politicians, diplomats, and representatives of charities and civil society.
Afterwards, he will go to St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral before being brought on a drive through the city centre to greet the public. He then has a private visit to the Capuchin Day Centre, where he will meet homeless people. His next appearance is in Croke Park but it is expected he will use the time before then to meet with abuse victims.
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