Homily of the Most Rev Dermot Clifford Archbishop of Cashel and Emly at the Mass for Pope John Paul II in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles at 7.30pm on Tuesday 5th April 2005

05 Apr 2005


5 APRIL 2005





“For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure
has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept
the faith” (2 Tim.4:7).

These were St. Paul’s words of farewell to Timothy at the approach of death.
His words come to mind this evening as the 264th successor of Peter has come
to the end of his twenty-six and a half year pontificate. He has been in the
“shoes of the Fisherman” all that time but he has regularly put on the seven
league boots of Paul also and gone on missionary journeys all around the world.
The Preface of the Mass of the Feast of June 29th thanks God for the two Apostles;

“Peter, our leader in the faith, Paul its fearless preacher.

Peter raised up the Church….Paul brought your call to the nations and became
the teacher of the world”.

Both shared a martyr’s death and are praised throughout the world.

Pope John Paul II was the Bishop of Rome and the successor of Peter as Vicar
of Christ. He was an ardent but gentle preacher of the Gospel. His fourteen
encyclicals, five books and many other writings have covered a vast range of
subjects. He conducted 1200 Great Audiences which were attended by an estimated
eighteen million people. He made nine hundred visits to different places in
Italy and three hundred visits to the parishes of Rome, his diocese. That would
have been a full-time job in itself, but his mission was broader still. He
felt compelled “to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News”.
Thus, his pastoral visits, one hundred and four in all, took him to every
corner of the earth, to one hundred and seventeen countries, including our
own, the third, after his native Poland and Mexico. “Let history record that
at a difficult moment in the experience of the people of Ireland, the Bishop
of Rome set foot in your land, that he was with you and prayed with you for
peace and reconciliation, for the victory of justice and love over hatred and

He did not die a martyr’s death like Peter and Paul, but he came within a hair’s
breath of doing so in 1981, after little more than 1000 days in office. But
he survived and, as the word “martyr” means “witness”, he bore witness to the
redemptive value of suffering during the remainder of his life but especially
in the final years when the man who had bestrode the world stage was confined
to a wheelchair. He was not ashamed to let the world see the ravages which
illness had caused his body. He taught the world not only how we should live
and but also how we should die.

Innumerable tributes have flowed in since the sad news of his death was flashed
all across the world on Saturday evening last. People of all religions and none
have praised his contribution to peace, justice, human rights and the environment
– even the Chinese communist government have paid tribute to him as has Fidel
Castro of Cuba. Even the Rev. Ian Paisley has given a guarded expression of
sympathy to Catholics for their loss.

As at any wake, people are telling of their personal experience of the deceased.
Permit me to give you a few of my memories. In October 1992, I went to Rome to
the Ad Limina visit together with all my colleagues. We began by going to
Castelgandolfo for Mass with the Holy Father. We arrived in the chapel to
find John Paul II kneeling in front of the altar, in his white soutane and
skull cap. He was deep in prayer. He had risen, as always, at 5:30 am and
came to the chapel at 6:00 am. We were quickly drawn into his prayer. You
could not fail to be, since he was totally absorbed. At 6:45 am, he rose
from his knees, vested and concelebrated Mass with us in English. He celebrated
with great concentration and devotion. I believe that his prayer and Mass were
the source of his spiritual strength, courage and physical stamina. It is no
accident that his final letters were an appeal to the faithful, “to rekindle
our sense of amazement and gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist which is
not just any gift but the gift par excellence”.

After Mass, he invited us to breakfast, all twenty-six of us! We didn’t refuse
it at 8 o’clock! Then he began his private audiences with us, one by one, beginning
with the eldest. When I came to his study, he welcomed me and asked me to point
out my diocese in a map which lay open on the desk. I pointed it out. “How does
it happen that you are the Archbishop of Cashel but that you are living in Thurles?”
he asked. I explained the historic reasons for being so displaced. Then he asked
about the faith of the people, their attendance at Sunday Mass, the state of family
life, vocations, and the problems of unemployment and emigration. Then he said,
“You are very fortunate to be bishop of a rural people. Country people are close
to nature and close to God. Take my blessing and good wishes to the faithful of
Cashel & Emly”.

He invited the bishops to lunch, half of us one day, the other half the next.
These were very relaxed and informal occasions. He told us that he would dearly
love to beatify three people, Damien of Monokai, Cardinal Newman and Matt Talbot.
He had written a biography of Matt in Polish in his young days. He asked us to
pray for a miracle since Matt’s example could be very valuable for those who are
addicted to alcohol and drugs. Damien is canonised and Newman is beatified but
Matt Talbot is still awaiting a miracle.

When he enquired about my family, I told him about my aunt, who was in a nursing
home. She had put my picture over her bed and people who came to visit her ward
would stop to chat with her about the picture. “That is my nephew, the Archbishop
of Cashel. Not boasting about him, but he is very good to me and visits regularly”.
The old lady in the next bed became increasingly jealous as my aunt was getting all
the attention. So, one day, a large picture of the Holy Father appeared over her
bed! That put the Archbishop and his aunt in their place. The Holy Father chuckled,
“proper order”!

At the end of three or four days, the Holy Father assembled the bishops again and
gave us an address for half an hour. He praised the priests, the teachers and the
missionaries and urged us to promote the “new evangelisation” in the Third Millennium.
He had been speaking of the Jubilee Year 2000 from his very first days as Pope.
He always seemed confident that he would be around to ring it in and so it transpired.
I was amazed at the time and trouble he took with the bishops of one small country.
When you consider that he went to the same trouble with the 6,000 bishops of all the
countries of the world, I wondered how he found time for anything else! Particularly,
how was he able to find time to travel the world! I still marvel at how any one man
could physically endure the gruelling schedule which he undertook daily and stay
the course for over a quarter of a century.

That brings me to his visit to Ireland in 1979. That visit is now part of history
and folklore. Even though we celebrated the 25th anniversary last September, the
memories are being recalled again this week. From the magic moment when he landed
in Dublin airport and kissed the soil of Ireland, the whole nation was walking on
air for three days. It was the “the alleluia weekend” as Bishop John Magee calls it.
The Pope’s strong physical presence then, his extraordinary charisma and his courteous
manner won the hearts of young and old alike.

Everybody was in good humour. People who had never met before greeted each other
amiably and fell into conversation. Though there were huge traffic jams on the
roads, there wasn’t even a hint of road rage. Perhaps it had not even been invented
yet! On my way to Galway from Killarney, a journey of 130 miles which took five
hours, I was forced to brake suddenly near Oranmore and the car behind struck me
with a loud bang. I got out and so did the driver of the other car. It was dark,
but we could see with the lights that there was severe bumps on both cars. After
we each surveyed our brokenness for a moment, my man said, “I’ll pay for my own
repairs and, sure, you can send the bill to the Holy Father!” We shook hands and
drove on!

During those three days there was virtually no crime. Of course, “criminality”
was not the vogue word then that it has recently become! Even though most houses
were empty for long periods and almost all the guards were on traffic duty, there
were no burglaries. The pick-pockets had their hands joined and all the thieves
were trying to be good thieves for the duration at least!

The Holy Father’s homilies during that weekend were prophetic. Neither he, nor
we, in our wildest dreams, could have envisaged the “Celtic Tiger” then, but his
challenge to materialism and greed should have been better heeded by all of us:

“The prospect of growing economic progress, and the chance of obtaining a greater
share of the goods that modern society has to offer, will appear to you as an
opportunity to achieve greater freedom. The more you possess – you may be tempted
to think – the more you will feel liberated from every type of confinement. In
order to make more money and to possess more, in order to eliminate effort and
worry, you may be tempted to take moral shortcuts where honesty, truth and work
are concerned”.

Had we listened we might have avoided the tribunals and enquiries which have
proved so costly and damaging to the good name of Ireland, now among the richest
countries in the world.

It was in Galway, we first came to know of Pope John Paul II’s exceptional ability
to relate to young people. “I believe in youth. I believe in youth with all my
heart…in every one of you. Young people of Ireland I love you”. A momentary
intake of breath and then an explosion of cheering, singing, clapping and general
exultation by 300,000 young people for a full fifteen minutes! I heard Bishop
John Magee say the other day that the experience in Galway had a large bearing
on the inauguration of World Youth Day, where even larger gatherings – two million
in Rome in 2000 A.D., the million plus in Toronto in 2002. The young people were
drawn to the Holy Father in the way children are to a grand-parent. And he took
to that role with ease. In Toronto he told them;

“You are young, the Pope is old, 82 or 83 years of life is not like 22 or 23.
But the Pope identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived
through much darkness under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough
evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that
it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the
young. You are our hope, the young are our hope”.

Then the Pope used a building metaphor;

“The twentieth century often tried to build without the cornerstone and attempted
to build a city of man without reference to God. It ended by actually that city
against man. A new generation of builders is needed. Moved, not by fear or
violence but by the urgency of genuine love. They must learn to build brick by
brick the city of God within the City of Man. Dear young people, he continued,
you must be those builders. God is entrusting you with the task at once difficult
and uplifting of working with him in the building of the civilisation of love”.

The Pope condemned both the gulf war and the Iraq war while he is acknowledged to
have played a vital role in the “velvet” revolutions which began in Poland and
ended with the liberation of Eastern Europe from communist domination with bloodshed.

If you are in the company of young people, he said, it keeps you young. So he
sat after the prayer services and tapped his toes to their music at the concerts
which followed. He had been a teacher in his younger days and he had kept in
touch with the young. But in Galway, I always think it was that it was the actor
in him which prevailed over the teacher. The teacher’s instinct is to quell the
first signs of exuberance lest the headmaster/mistress appear! Pope John Paul II
allowed, he even encouraged, the young people in Galway to pour out their feelings
to their hearts content. Last weekend, young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square
to pray for their beloved Pope as he lay dying. He was told of their presence and
he said, “I went out to the young people of the world and now they have come to me”.

As I left the Papal Mass in Limerick, I was walking up the street when a group
of people, who were having an open air meal, greeted me and said, “Father, come
over and have a bite with us”. We had never set eyes on each other before. But
it was that kind of weekend. I got a mug of tea and a generous slice of blueberry
pie from the good lady who was in charge of the picnic basket. It was wonderful
being a priest that weekend, it beats being an Archbishop today!

Ten years passed and I had been ordained Bishop and living in Tipperary Town.
I received a telephone bill which seemed to me to be a thousand pounds more than
normal. I rang Telecom to protest. Before I got very far, the woman at the other
end said, “Father, don’t you remember me? “No”, I said, “Should I?” , “You should,
I am the woman who gave you the blueberry pie in Limerick the day the Pope came”.
What could I say? Another bill for the Holy Father!

As I said earlier, few Popes have written as extensively on such a wide variety
of subjects as John Paul II except possibly Pope Pius XII. But, Pope John Paul
was also adept in the use of symbols and gestures, which can be more eloquent
than words. His use of the pastoral staff with the crucified Christ on top in
place of the traditional crozier is an example. His gesture of kissing of the
ground when he landed in every foreign country was another. This had to be
modified when he could no longer bend down. A basket of soil was provided but
the point was even more forcefully made. When he kissed the soil of Scotland,
in addition to that of England he affirmed the Scottish as a distinct nation.

In the Jubilee year he stood and prayed at the Wailing or Western Wall in
Jerusalem and placed his written petition in the crevice as devout Jews have
been doing for centuries. Someone also pointed out that one of his longest
journeys was one of just one kilometre! It was to the Jewish synagogue down
the road from the Vatican. It was a journey which took two thousand years for
a Pope to make! And who will ever forget Easter Sunday last when words
literally failed him. He was reduced to a feeble blessing but the gesture
moved people to tears in St. Peter’s Square and far beyond. We realised
that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the race and he had kept
the faith.

As I said, the largest crowd which ever came together in one place in Europe
gathered in Rome in 2000 A.D. for the Mass on World Youth Day. The media
are forecasting another gathering of two million or more for another Mass
in Rome this Friday, the Pope’s funeral Mass. In the country, the people
always forecast a big funeral when the deceased has a large family. If she
or he comes from “a long-tailed family”, there will be a huge funeral they

Pope John Paul II had only one relative, a cousin, who could be invited to
his inauguration as Pope on October 22 1978. His parents, his brother and
sister, died when he was quite young. But, as the spiritual father of the
long-tailed Catholic family and the families of many other faiths who
acknowledge him as friend, he will have the largest funeral of any leader,
religious or secular in history, if the predictions are borne out.

There is an old Irish prayer which was recited for those who were close to death.
It envisaged a second funeral or, more correctly, a welcoming party in the next

“Sochraid aingeal, sochraid aspal,
sochraid naomh
ag teacht i d’choinnibh sa bhóthar caol,
ag breith an anam’ ar dheasláimh Dé”.

“A funeral of angels, a funeral of apostles,
a funeral of saints,
Comes to meet you on the narrow road,
to bring your soul to God’s right hand”.

In Pope John Paul’s case, many of those who will come to greet him will have
been beatified and canonised by himself. So whatever the critics may have
said, this was certainly good thinking on Pope John Paul’s part!

Ar dheis láimh Dé go riabh anam uasal ar bPápa Eoin Pól II.

+Dermot Clifford
Archbishop of Cashel and Emly
5th April 2005

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