I was speaking about the Eucharistic Congress with a good friend recently and they said "isn't it odd that the Archbishop of Dublin would say one thing about the Pope coming and the Archbishop of Armagh says the opposite?"

Odd indeed but perhaps geography has a part to play in the difference of opinion. Few in the South (wrongly) give a second thought to Northern Catholics. Denied a papal visit in 1979, they might deeply value Pope Benedict coming to pastor to them. They also might rightly say to the Church in the south, its not all about you folks.

Last week, we were told that the Pope would link up to the International Eucharistic Congress by video link. That would appear to put paid to the Pope coming here - the south that is.

I'm on the record as saying I don't think it is the right time for a full papal visit here.

It would, I believe, distract too much from the congress which in itself is a test of the resolve of the Irish Church to pull itself out of its depressed state.

We dont need a false picture of our state of affairs as a Church. In this paper we love publishing pictures of young people gathered from around the country but there are many, many grey heads too in proportion to the younger ones.

That's not to be ageist but to observe that time is running out for renewal in the Church in Ireland with declining clerical numbers and lay participation still stunted.

Maybe much has to die first before the new shoots grow but Im sure that God does not intend for us to be passive onlookers in the face of problems largely brought down on the Church by its own obstinacy and lust for control and power.

Human problems need human solutions. I share the hope that the congress can be a litmus test of the true health of the Church in Ireland and then we can begin some kind of realistic renewal.


This is not to deny that we need leadership, we need good priests, holy priests and bishops but holy in the full expression of that concept - whole.

Jesus is the fullness of what man/woman can be, to be holy is to achieve the fullness of Gods plan for us in our lives. Who doesn't long for that?

So from that leadership perspective I think the Pope should come but not in the context originally conceived. The Pope should come first to Northern Ireland and meet with and shake hands with Peter Robinson (would Ian Paisley shake hands?).

That would be the final 'T' crossed and 'i' dotted on the peace process and complete the earlier Irish visit of John Paul II. It would be a great boost for Northern Catholics who have struggled long and hard. It would compliment the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the Republic.

The Pope could then fly into Dublin on a purely 24-hour pastoral visit, say the final IEC-2012 Mass in Croke Park, meet the victims of abuse who want to meet him, and then fly back to Rome.

As a pastoral visit, he wouldn't have to do any state protocol stuff, letting our left-wing pinkos in the political establishment off the hook and free up VIP seats for ordinary Catholics.

Come as a pastor Holy Father would be my plea and speak to us all in the fullness of our baptism and the priesthood of all. Yes, he will still have to address the difficult issue of abuse and cover-up which he already wrote about in his letter to Irish Catholics but this Pope is not one to shrink from a difficult but necessary task.

My guess is that in this context, the Irish people would want the Pope to come. The Pope has nothing to lose.

However, Irish Catholics will want to see the change outlined in the visitation report happen on the ground soon. Were a missionary people and our greatest mission now is not to Africa or Asia but to the Church in our own country.

Were not a people to be content to say our prayers, we need and want a reformed Irish Catholic Church that throws off clericalism and the shackles of mismanagement, secrecy, closed mindedness, all vices that are burying the very seeds of change that the Pope so ardently longs for in his new evangelisation!

Cardinal Brady thinks the Pope should come, perhaps he should make it clear that he should come first and foremost for the Catholics of Northern Ireland and come as pastor-in-chief.

Spero columnist Garry O'Sullivan is the editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, the largest circulating Catholic daily in the Republic of Ireland.



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