Bishop of Cloyne Dr John Magee celebrates Mass of Thanksgiving on the 25th anniversary of the pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland

29 Sep 2004





“I am the living bread which has come down from heaven” (Jn. 6:51)

As the great Jumbo jet, ‘St. Patrick’, passed over the vast concourse of people
gathered in Phoenix Park twenty five years ago today, little did I realise what
an expression of faith and love was awaiting the Vicar of Christ, Pope John Paul
II, as he set foot on Irish soil. History was being made that day and history
was being recalled. Some forty-seven years previously Phoenix Park had hosted,
in 1932, the International Eucharistic Congress and now, on the very same spot,
the Vicar of Christ would celebrate the Eucharist in thanksgiving for the centuries
of fidelity to the Eucharist which have marked the faith of the Irish. It is
good to listen again to the very words the Pope used on that occasion:

“As I stand here, in the company of so many hundreds
of thousands of Irish men and women”, – in fact there were
some one and a quarter million people present. “I am thinking
of how many times, across how many centuries, the Eucharist
has been celebrated in this land. How many and how varied
the places where Mass has been offered – in stately medieval and
in splendid modern cathedrals; in early monastic and in
modern churches; at Mass Rocks in the glens and forests
by ‘hunted priests’ and in poor thatch–covered chapels,
for a people poor in worldly goods but rich in the things of the
spirit; in ‘wake-houses’ or ‘station houses; or at great
open-air hostings of the faithful – on the top of Croagh Patrick
and at Lough Derg. Small matter where the Mass was offered.
For the Irish, it was always the Mass that mattered”.

Twenty five years on since those words were pronounced in Phoenix Park, as we
gather this evening to render thanks to God for the grace that was given to
Ireland by the visit of Pope John Paul II, can we still say ‘ it is the Mass
that matters’? In the intervening years, when Ireland has taken her rightful
place among the Nations of the New Europe and is experiencing an unprecedented
wellbeing from an economic and material point of view, are we losing those
values and that respect for the spiritual which are forefathers in difficult
and penal times cherished and preserved? Is the fact that we, as a Nation,
were incapable of or reticent in ensuring that due recognition of the Christian
Heritage of Europe be recognised in its new Constitution, a sign of our losing
appreciation for the deep Christian Heritage which has marked us out as a truly
Christian Nation? Is what the Vicar of Christ indicated to the people of Ireland
in Phoenix Park becoming a reality in our age of so-called ‘enlightenment
and affluence’? The Holy Father said:

“Prosperity and affluence… tend to make people assume that they
have a right to all that prosperity can bring, and thus
they can become more selfish in their demands. Everybody
wants a full freedom in all the areas of human behaviour
and new models of morality are being proposed in the
name of would-be freedom. When the moral fibre of a
nation is weakened, when the sense of personal responsibility
is diminished, then the door is open for the justification of
injustice, for violence in all its forms, and for the manipulation
of the many by the few. The challenge that is already with us
is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality
is only a new form of slavery”.

Were those prophetic words? Only our present generation can answer that question.
As we celebrate this evening and recall with gratitude the events of that weekend,
twenty-five years ago, may we ponder on the challenges that visit posed us. May
the devotion to the Mass, referred to frequently by the Holy Father as being typical
of the Irish faithful, be the grace we receive from this Eucharistic celebration.
May our Sunday liturgies be truly occasions of “the festive celebration of our
salvation” by the whole people of God, celebrations in which everyone is involved
both in preparation and participation. The Holy Father said on that first day of
his visit to Ireland:
“As successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ,
I assure you that the Mass is indeed the source
and summit of our Christian life”.

May every parish in this diocese of Cloyne, and indeed in the whole of Ireland, take
seriously the challenge facing our times to make of our Eucharistic celebrations
occasions where the people of God are truly nourished in faith, occasions which
become the highlight of our Christian lives each week. For this to happen we need
commitment and dedication; we need the involvement of all age groups; we need a
proper catechesis on the Mass so that all who participate in it may be truly
refreshed and uplifted.

The words again of the Holy Father challenge us:
“Our full participation in the Eucharist is the real source
of the Christian spirit that we wish to see in our personal
lives and in all aspects of society. Whether we serve in
politics, in the economic, cultural, social or scientific
fields – no matter what our occupation is – the Eucharist
is a challenge to our daily lives”.

Pope John Paul, conscious of the immense opportunity given him during his visit to
Ireland to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, endeavoured to cover the whole ambit
of Christian teaching for the good of the People of Ireland. So on that occasion in
Phoenix Park when he concentrated on the Mass and Eucharistic devotion, as being the
source of the grace and strength for our daily living, he underlined the fact that
“the Eucharist is also a great call to conversion”. After the celebration in the Park
he was due to go to Drogheda and to make his plea for reconciliation and peace to all
those engaged in violence. His words there on that occasion were poignant;

“I appeal to you, in language of passionate pleading. On my
knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence
and to return to the ways of peace”.

Conscious of the fact that reconciliation and peace can only come about through personal
conversion, the Holy Father, towards the end of his homily in Phoenix Park, reminded the
people of Ireland of the need to personally encounter the all-forgiving, all mercifu
Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
He said:
“This encounter with Jesus is so very important that
I wrote in my first encyclical letter these words:
‘In faithfully observing the centuries-old practice
of the sacrament of penance – the practice of individual
confession with a personal act of sorrow and the intention
to amend and make satisfaction – the Church is therefore
defending the human soul’s individual right; man’s
right to a more personal encounter with the crucified
forgiving Christ, with Christ saying, through the minister
of the Sacrament of reconciliation: ‘Your sins are forgiven,
go, and do not sin again’.

We can only grow spiritually, my dear friends, we can only find our way through the
morass of present-day challenges to our Christian way of life, by remaining close to
Jesus and by cherishing our personal encounters with Him in the Sacraments of Penance
and the Eucharist. May the occasion of this celebration, and the subsequent celebrations,
which will take place in every parish on Friday next in thanksgiving for the grace of
the visit of the Vicar of Christ to our Nation twenty-five years ago, be a rallying call
to return to a more fervent and coherent practice of our faith. May we truly experience
within ourselves the freedom of the children of God, a freedom to profess and to confess,
a freedom to witness and to proclaim, a freedom to rejoice and to celebrate without being
encumbered or inhibited by the peer pressure of the society in which we live. Let
‘fidelity’ be our earnest endeavour and ‘freedom’ be the very oxygen by which we live
to the full our Christian calling.

As I conclude, may I invite you all, my dear people, to offer this Holy Mass and all our
prayers during these days of celebration for the person of the Vicar of Christ, Pope John
Paul II. Despite his weakened strength and advanced years may the Lord ever sustain him
and grant him the grace to continue in his ministry of proclaiming the Good News of the
Gospel throughout the whole world.

May I conclude with the final words of the Holy Father as he left our shores:
“In the name of the Lord I exhort you to preserve
the great treasure of your fidelity to Jesus Christ
and to his Church. Like the early Christian
Community, described in the Acts of the Apostles,
Ireland is called to be ‘faithful to the teaching
of the Apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking
of bread and to the prayers’ (Acts 2:42).

Ireland: semper fidelis, always faithful!
Ireland: always faithful!
Moladh go deo le Dia!

Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)

1. Pope John Paul II visited Ireland on 29th, 30th September and 1st October, 1979.
Ireland was the third visit 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

2. Bishop John Magee is a former private secretary to Pope John Paul II.