Francis to start Ireland’s first papal visit in nearly 40 years
He will witness a country that has undergone seismic social changes in the four decades since the last papal visit in 1979.
The Pope will arrive in Dublin later for the start of an historic two-day visit to Ireland.
He took off on an Alitalia flight from Rome just before 8.30am and is due to land in the Irish capital at around 10.10am.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to welcome Francis during his whistle-stop tour of the capital city and Co Mayo over the weekend.
The Pontiff will witness a country that has undergone seismic social changes in the four decades since the last papal visit in 1979, when John Paul II was lauded by a nation shaped by its relationship with an all-powerful Catholic Church.
While the Pope will receive a warm reception from the thousands of pilgrims who have travelled to be part of the occasion, he will also be met by protesters angry at how the church dealt with multiple clerical sex abuse scandals that have damaged trust in the religious institution and seriously weakened its influence on Irish society.
Francis will meet a number of abuse victims in a private meeting amid expectation he will use his public utterances elsewhere to confront the emotive issue.
“As I prepare to visit Ireland in a few days’ time for the World Meeting of Families, I send a warm word of greeting to all the Irish people. I am excited at the thought of returning to Ireland!"@Pontifex #WMOF2018 https://t.co/6JHtTckwdc pic.twitter.com/YHiDVUGhj6— WMOF2018 (@WMOF2018) August 21, 2018
Earlier this week, the Pope wrote a 2,000-word letter to Catholics in which he condemned the crime of sexual abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups.
The Pope demanded accountability in response to fresh revelations in Pennsylvania in the United States of decades of misconduct by clerics.
Francis is ostensibly in Ireland to attend the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) – a major global church event focused on promoting family values.
However, he will also fulfil a number of other engagements, including meetings with President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
With Ireland in the midst of a high-profile homelessness problem, the Pope will also meet a number of impacted families at a centre run by a religious order.
Around 100,000 people are expected to line the streets of Dublin city centre on Saturday afternoon as the Pope passes through in his famous Pope Mobile.
In the evening he will join 80,000 pilgrims at a musical festival in the landmark Croke Park Gaelic Athletic Association stadium.
On Sunday the Pope will fly west to Co Mayo where he will follow in the footsteps of John Paul II and take part in a religious service at a Holy shrine in Knock.
He will then return to Dublin for the closing centrepiece of the WMOF event – an outdoor Mass in front of an expected congregation of half a million people.