Homily by Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Limerick
1ST OCTOBER 2004
HOMILY BY BISHOP DONAL MURRAY OF LIMERICK TO CELEBRATE
THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE VISIT OF POPE JOHN PAUL II TO LIMERICK
In his homily Bishop Murray speaks about:
* The hope he has in the not too distant future to see a permanent memorial mark
the site of Pope John Paul 11 visit to Limerick.
* “The sad truth is that for too many people life is tasteless. They ‘learn to
live with it’; they live “lives of quiet desperation”. Life can seem empty, lonely,
lost, subject to all sorts of pressures, setbacks and anxieties… In many hearts
the insistent question, ‘What’s it all for?’ lies unanswered but never completely
silenced.” (Reference to the theme of next Sunday’s Day for Life – Life is for
Living, a Reflection on Suicide – and the heartbreaking reality of the death of
a loved one through suicide)
* Family Life – that society will only become more human if it values the qualities
that grow in loving families.
* The choices we need to make regarding our quality of life – “What would it
profit Ireland to go the easy way of the world and to suffer the loss of her
own soul” (Pope John Paul – Limerick)
* As Christians we are meant to be ‘salt to the earth’ and ‘light to the world’.
That we are meant to bring hope to a sometimes dark and suffering world.
* Keeping close to Christ and “keeping contact with our roots does not mean turning
the clock back. It means ensuring that when change occurs it is genuine progress;
in other words that it does not merely bring an increase in affluence, prestige
and power but that it helps to ‘humanise the world we live in’.” The challenge is
as important today as it was twenty five years ago – that we remain ‘always faithful’.
The Bishop of Limerick, Dr Donal Murray marks the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul
II’s visit to Limerick with the publication of a special pastoral letter. In this
pastoral letter Bishop Murray wonders how we can “Live as God’s people” and asks the
question: Is God missing but not missed?
In Limerick, Pope John Paul spoke of that special vocation that lay people have in
the church – to express the Gospel in the world in which they live and work. According
to Bishop Murray “this is a world in which the Gospel has never been before” and “we
must find for ourselves what it means to live as God’s people in our time.”
The Pastoral letter can be viewed on www.limerickdiocese.org
The texts of Scripture we have just heard were read at the Mass for the People of God
in Limerick twenty-five years ago today. We remember the joyfulness of that day and
all the people who were part of the ceremonies and who helped to organise the visit.
I hope that, in the not too distant future, a permanent memorial will mark the site
of his visit to Limerick, as is the case in the other major sites. What is more
important, however, is that we should listen once again, and perhaps that the younger
people among us should listen for the first time, to the message given to us by the
Pope during his visit to our country, to our diocese and indeed to this parish.
In his homily on that day, Pope John Paul reminded us that we are meant to be the salt
of the earth and the light of the world. He addressed the same theme two years ago at
the World Youth Day in Toronto. Speaking to a million young people, including a group
from Limerick, he said:
Salt seasons and improves the flavour of food. Following Jesus, you have to change
and improve the ‘taste’ of human history. With your faith, hope and love, with your
intelligence, courage and perseverance, you have to humanise the world we live in.
The sad truth is that for too many people life is tasteless. They ‘learn to live with
it’; they live “lives of quiet desperation”. Life can seem empty, lonely, lost,
subject to all sorts of pressures, setbacks and anxieties. Many begin to wonder whether
there is any point to living or whether life may not, in the end, be absurd. The Day
for Life, next Sunday, points to one of the most devastating signs of this desperation
— the heartbreak that is experienced when someone takes his or her own life.
“Taste and see”, the Psalm says, “for the Lord is good.” (Ps 34:8). That means seeing
the love of God for us – in the beauty of creation, in the gift of our life and above
all in the love that we receive from and share with others.
That truth is easily hidden by all the bustle and activity of modern life. That is why
in his homily in Limerick the Holy Father stressed the importance of our roots, of
families, of a rich community life. If there is one source of the tastelessness of
life it is the lack of a sense of belonging – a fear that my feelings, my frustrations
are not understood – perhaps not even by myself; a resentment that I seem to be part
of some great machine over which I have no control; an uneasy apprehension that nobody
will recognise or appreciate my gifts, my ideals, my commitment; a sense of being
caught up in a cutthroat world, where everything is measured in terms of achievement
and profit, competing for prizes that may not be worth the effort. In many hearts
the insistent question, ‘What’s it all for?’ lies unanswered but never completely
The love of God is what gives life its taste. God offers us a love greater than we
could ever have imagined – a love that unites us with people of every race, culture
and period of history, a love in which we can see the image of the infinite God in
one another, a love in which we hope to rejoice eternally together in the vision of
the divine glory. Our longings for truth and love and joy and beauty are not illusions;
our hope for a life beyond all that we fear – failure and disillusionment and evil
and death – is not unrealistic; our ideals are not too ambitious but too timid. Life
is an invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good.
The love of our parents is what first teaches us that God loves us. God is with
fathers and mothers because “all parenthood in heaven and on earth takes its name
from him”. Parents are “the first preachers of the faith for their children”.
But Pope John Paul also recognised that the family is subject to many threatening
forces and surrounded by many pressures which give a very different message. Even
the best families may find it hard to overcome the conflicting influences that pour
in from all sides, and in a particular way on young people. But that is all the more
reason for families to believe in their essential role, and for everyone to be aware
of how vital it is to support families in that role. “The Christian family”, the Pope
told us in Limerick, “is more important for the Church and the world than ever before.”
In spite of all our progress economically, technologically and educationally, society
will only become more human if it values the qualities that grow not in laboratories
or computer programmes or research facilities but in loving families: awareness of
the irreplaceable importance of each member – young or old, sick or healthy, productive
or unproductive; the ability to see the gifts of one as a benefit rather than a threat
to others; a sense of fairness that will not allow any member to be marginalized.
Keeping in contact with our roots does not mean turning the clock back. It means
ensuring that when change occurs it is genuine progress; in other words that it does
not merely bring an increase in affluence and prestige and power but that it helps
to ‘humanise the world we live in’.
Pope John Paul gave the young people in Toronto the same message:
The world you are inheriting is a world which desperately needs a new sense of
brotherhood and human solidarity. It is a world which needs to be touched and
healed by the beauty and richness of God’s love. It needs witnesses to that love.
It needs salt. It needs you.
In order to do that, we have to try to be the light of the world. In his homily in
Limerick the Holy Father told us that there were urgent choices to be made about
where our society was going and what its priorities would be. It was particularly
to lay Christians that he voiced the challenge:
The laity are “a chosen race, a holy priesthood”, also called to be “the salt of
the earth” and “the light of the world”. It is their specific vocation and mission
to express the Gospel in their lives and thereby to insert the Gospel as a leaven
into the reality of the world in which they live and work.
He listed some of what he called ‘the great forces which shape the world – “politics,
the mass media, science, technology, culture, education, industry and work”. These
give a great variety of often conflicting messages and create a great variety often
conflicting priorities. But they are not just pressures to be contended with. These
are areas in which Christian people have the ‘mission to express the Gospel’, to
bring the light of Christ.
The Pope put an urgent choice before us: “Ireland must choose. You, the present
generation of Irish people must decide; your choice must be clear and your decision
firm.” “What would it profit Ireland to go the easy way of the world and suffer
the loss of her own soul?” We must choose our way forward: “Will it be the way
that so many nations have gone? The way of preferring economic growth and material
possessions to the things of the spirit? “Material progress has in so many places
led to decline of faith and growth in Christ.”
The questions and the choices are, if anything, more urgent than ever today. It
is clear in a new way that the Church is all of us. The great forces that shape
our world can be influenced and inspired and enlightened if Christians, especially
lay Christians, fulfil their role in the evangelisation of the world. Their mission
as followers of Christ is to allow the light of his Gospel to shine in all the
different areas of our world – areas which can only be effectively influenced from
within by those who live and work in them.
If these forces are guided by people who are true disciples of Christ, and who are,
at the same time, fully competent in the relevant secular knowledge and skill, then
indeed will the world be transformed from within by Christ’s redeeming power.
All of those areas of politics, mass media, science, technology and indeed every
area in which people operate – sport and community development, organisations and
associations of all kinds, the list is endless – can be enlightened by the Gospel.
Their deepest meaning is to be part of our journey to the fulfilment that God
promises to the human race.
In the first reading, St Peter tells us that, in Jesus, God “called us out of darkness
into his wonderful light” (I Pet 2:9). The world seen without its Creator, and without
the new life into which Jesus leads us, would, for all its beauty and potential, be
ultimately dark and lacking in hope. It is our task to keep the vision of hope alive,
to live as people who know that the efforts of those who seek the glorious gathering
of humanity in God’s love, beyond evil and death, ‘will not be in vain’.
That is a task for every member of the Church. There is no use bemoaning a world
which seems to be less supportive of families, less open to others, less committed
to the faith which we have received unless we are rising to those challenges ourselves.
There is no use complaining that the forces that shape our world are lacking in humanity,
justice, wisdom, love, if we are not trying to bring the Gospel into how we operate
in these spheres ourselves.
It is painful to dwell on the signs of darkness that we see in the world. We see
poverty, violence, war and terrorism. The horror of Beslan, still fresh in our minds,
makes us wonder if there are any limits to human cruelty. We see suffering and tragedy a
ll around us; we experience pain and loss, disillusionment and disappointment in our
But we followers of Christ are bearers of a message. We are meant to be the light
of the world. All of that darkness should prompt in us the realisation voiced by Simon
Peter: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).
In Greenpark, the Holy Father pointed to the images in our readings, the building,
strengthened by its cornerstone, the city built strong and safe on a hill. He went on:
These images contain and invitation for all of us, for all Christians, to come close
to Christ, the cornerstone, so that he may become our support and the unifying principle
which gives meaning and coherence to our lives.
Once again at the World Youth Day in Toronto, the challenge spoken in Limerick
twenty three years earlier appeared fresh, vigorous and as relevant as ever:
If your friendship with Christ, your knowledge of his mystery, your giving of yourselves
to him, are genuine and deep, you will be ‘children of the light’ and you will become
‘the light of the word’.
The challenge is summed up in the words with which he concluded his visit to Ireland
on the tarmac at Shannon. He asked us to preserve the great treasure of Ireland’s
fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church. He then spoke words which were at once a
tribute to our past and a prayer for our future:
“Ireland: semper fidelis, always faithful!
Ireland: always faithful! Moladh go deo le Dia!”
 Solemn Mass, Downsview Park Toronto, 28 July 2002.
 THOREAU, H. D., Walden, Economy, 9.
 Eph 3:15, quoted in Limerick homily.
 VATICAN II, Lumen Gentium, 11.
 VATICAN II, Gaudium et Spes 38.
NOTES TO EDITORS
*The Pastoral letter can be viewed on www.limerickdiocese.org
*The Bishop of Limerick Dr. Donal Murray commemorates the twenty fifth anniversary
of the visit of Pope John Paul II with a special Mass at St. Joseph’s Church,
O’ Connell Avenue. Representatives of all the sixty parishes in the Limerick
diocese will attend the Mass along with city and county officials.
* Pope John Paul II visited Ireland on 29th, 30th September and 1st October, 1979.
* Ireland was the third pilgrimage of his Pontificate. The Holy Father’s first
visit was to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Bahamas, his second visit
was to Poland and his third visit was to Ireland and the United States. The full
itinerary of the Irish visit, along with audio links to the Pope’s 1979 homilies
and speeches in Ireland, is available in the “Special Features Archive” on
* During his 1979 pilgrimage to Ireland, Pope John Paul II undertook a hectic
schedule travelling the country in order to greet the faithful in the four
archdioceses of Ireland. Over the three days the Holy Father addressed large
crowds in Dublin, Drogheda, Clonmacnois, Galway, Knock Maynooth and Limerick.