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Pontiff's appeal could rally wounded Church

By Sarah MacDonald

Published 28/09/2015

Pope Francis' visit to Ireland is the greatest possible boon to an Irish Church wounded and chastened by the clerical child-abuse scandals.

Once the jewel in the Catholic crown, the Irish Church has for some time been a matter of concern for the Vatican.

These days, it is struggling against the tide of secularism as Mass attendances and vocations continue to plummet.

In Knock at the weekend, recalling the way things were around the time of Pope John Paul's visit, Archbishop Eamon Martin asked: "Could we ever have imagined 35 years ago that so much change would happen so quickly, especially to the role and standing of the Church in the lives, homes, communities and thinking of the Irish people?"

The faithful who will greet Pope Francis will have a very different outlook to those who welcomed the John Paul in 1979.

Most church people in Ireland would like to see a papal visit north of the border but that will depend on Francis' schedule.

This elderly spiritual leader will not undertake a visit on the scale of John Paul II. It will be short. Perhaps like Pope Benedict's visit to Britain in 2010.

He flew into Scotland and headed down to London, so Armagh and Dublin may therefore be on Francis' destinations.

Gerard Gallagher was involved in organising the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012 and the National Eucharistic Congress in Knock at the weekend.

He was 10 when John Paul visited and his family travelled to Knock from Strabane for the occasion. He recalls: "I remember it distinctly. It was hugely important not just for me but for the whole Irish Vhurch."

He believes Pope Francis, due to his broad appeal to believers and non-believers alike, will be widely welcomed throughout Ireland and predicts that the Pontiff will rally the Church both in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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