Rain and logistics to blame for poor turnout at Pope's Mass, says priest
The unexpectedly low turnout to see the Pope celebrate Mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park on Sunday was not due to a lack of interest, according to a Belfast priest who survived clerical abuse.
Fr Patrick McCafferty, who watched the Mass from the parochial house of his Corpus Christi parish in west Belfast, said there were any number of reasons why more people would not have gone to the event.
Organisers of the World Meeting of Families Mass had planned for as many as 500,000 people to attend Phoenix Park - but on the day the number was much lower.
By contrast, more than a million were at the same venue in 1979 to see John Paul II.
One organiser, Fr Damian McNeice, "guesstimated" that 200,000 were present on Sunday, while the medical director of the site's field hospital estimated 130,000.
Heavy rain and strong winds undoubtedly deterred some worshippers, as large umbrellas were banned, as were prams and mobility scooters too.
Fr McCafferty said: "I think the weather would have played a factor in the lower turnout but I don't think the organisers make it easy for anyone who did want to attend Phoenix Park.
"They made it sound like an endurance test, which would have put a lot of people off because they would have thought they would have to tackle an obstacle course. A lot of people who would have wanted to go would have been older but when they found out about how far they were going to have to walk, they were immediately put off.
"This is a very different time we are living in now compared to 1979 when Pope John Paul was here - there would have been television coverage but not the wall to wall coverage we had of this Papal visit. People would have thought, 'Will I go walking for miles and miles carrying seats and food in probably typical Irish weather or do I watch it in the comfort of my own living room with my feet up and a cup of coffee?' - and decided to stay at home.
"Watching it on television meant people got to see every part of the Papal visit and I think when the viewing figures are released we will get a better indication of how interested people were in the Pope's visit."
Fr McCafferty continued: "I do not think the turnout at Phoenix Park was necessarily a reflection of disinterest at all although there are those who will want to portray it that way."
More than one million tuned in to watch at least some of the Papal Mass on RTE.
And footage was shared with more than 75 broadcasters worldwide, and RTE's online platforms attracted an audience of 300,000 in 159 different countries, including Iran, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.
Fr McCafferty - who had an emotional meeting with the Pope to discuss clerical abuse - said it is a fact that the Church's place in society is different now and that fewer people attend Mass regularly.
He said: "It is a reality that Ireland is not the same and we are in a different situation now but there's no problem with that.
"It is what is it is and there's no use in crying over that. People would have attended Mass years ago just because it was the done thing but we actually still have quite a number who attend Mass, including young people.
"I wouldn't think that because 500,000 people didn't turn up at Phoenix Park on Sunday to see the Pope that it meant people aren't interested any more.
"I really do think people were just put off going," Fr McCafferty added.