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Travellers fire tragedy family relative William, 9, blessed by Pope at Vatican

A young relative of those who died in the devastating fire in Carrickmines has been treated like a celebrity after being blessed by Pope Francis.

William, who suffers from a lung disease, was with his mother Margaret O'Leary Connors among the thousands of Roma and Travellers for the special audience with the pontiff in the Vatican when they got a personal greeting.

"He was quite excited," she said.

"He thinks he's a bit of a celebrity now. He was blessed by the Pope and then he got a selfie. Afterwards people started coming up to him and he was given things to hold in his hands.

"He's delighted, I'd say the best way to describe him is he's chuffed."

William, aged nine, was with his cousin Dan, aged seven, and Dan's mother Biddie, in the front seats for the audience at the Paul VI Hall in the Holy City.

Ms O'Leary Connors works with the Southside Travellers Action Group and her mother was part of the extended Connors family left devastated by the fire in the halting site in Glenamuck over two weeks ago.

Thomas, 27, and Sylvia Connors, 25, and their three children, Jim, five, Christy, two, and five-month-old baby Mary died in the blaze.

Ms Connors's brother Willie Lynch, his partner Tara Gilbert, and their two children Jodie, aged eight, and Kelsey, aged four, also died as did Willie's brother Jimmy.

Alison Nevin, from Swords, Dublin was among the first to be blessed by the Pope when he stepped down to meet pilgrims at the event to mark the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's meeting with Roma people.

Up to 7,000 Roma, including about 300 Irish Travellers, came from across Europe and further afield for the ceremony

In his address to the thousands of pilgrims the Pope said: "We no longer want to attend family tragedies where children die of cold or in the flames, or become objects in the hands of depraved people, young people and women are involved in drug trafficking or human trafficking."

The Pope criticised the indifference to other ways of life and an inability to accept different customs.

But he also urged the pilgrims not to do anything that was not worthy of God's name "deceit, fraud, cheating, quarrels".

Another Irish pilgrim Nancy Collins, who was also blessed by the Pope, added: "It was brilliant. I've never felt anything like it before.

"I've been to Lourdes, Medjugorje, but this makes you believe so much more."

Ms O'Leary Connors said the pilgrimage had reignited her faith.

"It's just so uplifting. The way we feel at home, the situation with the housing, to know that the Holy Father is with us even when the Government does not appear to be with us, that is why we are so religious, we can rely on our religion," she said.

"I think he is doing wonders for our religion, and especially for Ireland."

Ronnie Fay, of Pavee Point who travelled to the Vatican for the event, said: "I think it's really important for all of society, and all societies in the world, to get a strong message from someone like the Pope to promote tolerance and understanding.

"And it's an important message that racism, xenophobia and discrimination has to end."

"People have to be accepted and integrated and shown respect and given opportunities to make progress. This is a key message for all societies."

Ms Fay added: "I've been struck by the commonalities of the Roma and traveller people throughout Europe and the world and the importance of family and faith for them."

"We need to make sure that Christians hear the message that the Catholic Pope has given."

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