Irish Catholics prepare for Pope Francis' two-day visit

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Ireland prepares for Pope Francis
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Ireland prepares for Pope Francis
Redemptoristine nuns Sister Petra Maria (R) and Sister Ivana prepare communion wafers during production of altar breads ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Ireland, at the Monastery of St Alphonsus in Dublin, Ireland August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Redemptoristine nun Sister Petra Maria prepares uncut sheets of communion wafers during production of altar breads ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Ireland, at the Monastery of St Alphonsus in Dublin, Ireland August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Sister Angela Finegan looks out of the church window at St Mary's Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. "I am so excited about the day, to be in the presence of this good and holy leader of our Church (Pope Francis) and surrounded by people of faith and lovers of God. It will be a great joy and blessing. Especially in the days when the presence of God and the life of the Church are hidden in our fast-paced society," said Sister Angela. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Redemptoristine nuns Sister Petra Maria (R) and Sister Ivana prepare communion wafers during production of altar breads ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Ireland, at the Monastery of St Alphonsus in Dublin, Ireland August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Pilgrims ascend and descend Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Names spelled out in stones are laid out on the side of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Sister Angela Finegan mops the church floor at St Mary's Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. "I am so excited about the day, to be in the presence of this good and holy leader of our Church (Pope Francis) and surrounded by people of faith and lovers of God. It will be a great joy and blessing. Especially in the days when the presence of God and the life of the Church are hidden in our fast-paced society," said Sister Angela. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Sister Marie Fahy reads at her desk in St Mary's Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. "The Pope is the earthly head of the Church, the Vicar of Christ. His visit means that he wants to support, guide and encourage the Irish Church. I believe his message will be one of inspiration, direction and advice for the people of God in Ireland," said Sister Marie. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Sister Marie Fahy walks through the farm in St Mary's Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. "The Pope is the earthly head of the Church, the Vicar of Christ. His visit means that he wants to support, guide and encourage the Irish Church. I believe his message will be one of inspiration, direction and advice for the people of God in Ireland," said Sister Marie. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A religious grotto that lights up at night and is also a traffic roundabout, stands in the city centre in Dublin, Ireland, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Brendan O'Connor who lives beside Phoenix Park, sits in his yard in Dublin, Ireland, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Sister Kathleen carries a pot of tea at St Mary's Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that is an enclosed contemplative order of nuns in Glencairn, Ireland, August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Shopkeeper Bernie Byrne, 74, looks out from his shop at the National Marian Shrine town of Knock, Ireland, July 23, 2018. Byrne's grandfather Dominic was one of at least twenty-two people that claimed to see Mary, Joseph and John the Evangelist hovering near the gable end of the local church in the western Irish village of Knock on a rainy evening in August 1879. "Houses are being painted and streets are being scrubbed... trying to get everything ready for him (Pope Francis), even though it's only a short visit," said Byrne, who like his brother Tom, runs a small shop selling religious goods to the 1.5 million pilgrims that come to Knock each year. "Because he is such a humble man, and a nice man, everybody is dying to have a look at him." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A souvenir lollipop called a 'Lollipope' is seen in Dublin, Ireland, August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A statue of the Virgin Mary stands in O'Devaney Gardens beside Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland, July 18, 2018. The 1950's complex's statue of Mary is tended to by Joe Towell who lives nearby to O'Devaney Gardens flats. While some locals' cars have been stolen and homes broken into, nobody touches Mary, he says. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Pope Francis bunting decorates a street in the city centre of Dublin, Ireland, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A statue of Pope Francis stands in a shop window in the National Marian Shrine town of Knock, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Women from a haberdashery shop hold up their new Pope Francis Ireland flag in Louth, Ireland, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A statue of the Virgin Mary looks out from a shop at the National Marian Shrine town of Knock, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Joe Towell, 68, sits with his mother who lives with him at his home in Dublin, Ireland, July 18, 2018. Excited about the visit of "another extraordinary type of pope", he sees Francis as bridging a generational gap that has opened between the conservative and liberal wings of the church. "He's still preaching the same gospel as they've all been preaching. He's just got a little more understanding of the present way people are feeling," Towell said. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Heart-shaped gravestones of boys who died in a Christian Brothers' industrial school lie in a graveyard in Letterfrack, Ireland, July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A religious grotto featuring a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a Pope Francis prayer card and several sets of rosary beads stands on the roadside near the county Mayo town of Claremorris, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
The stage where Pope Frances will lead Mass for over half a million people is under construction at the Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Pilgrims attend Mass at the summit of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A station of the cross is partly hidden by undergrowth at a roadside in the Connemara village of Letterfrack, Ireland, July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A nun stands in front of a scene of the crucifix of Jesus in the Marian Shrine town of Knock, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A child cycles past a roadside sign reading 'Jesus I trust in you' near Tuam, Ireland, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Pilgrims attend Mass at the summit of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Pilgrims ascend and descend Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A young pilgrim reads on Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Pilgrims attend Mass at the summit of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A pilgrim descends Croagh Patrick holy mountain barefoot during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Pilgrims ascend and descend Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
A pilgrim is blessed by the newly ordained Father Gerard Quirke after Mass at the summit of Croagh Patrick holy mountain during an annual Catholic pilgrimage near Lecanvey, Ireland, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
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KNOCK, Ireland, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Bernie and Tom Byrne can barely conceal their excitement as they prepare for a visit to Ireland by Pope Francis that they hope will bring back the young believers that have deserted the Catholic church after decades of scandal.

Their grandfather Dominic was one of at least twenty-two people that claimed to see Mary, Joseph and John the Evangelist hovering near the gable end of the local church in the western Irish village of Knock on a rainy evening in August 1879.

Francis will pray at the Knock shrine as part of his two-day visit to Ireland this week, the first by a Pope in almost 40 years that have transformed the once staunchly Catholic country into a far more secular and liberal society. https://tmsnrt.rs/2N95yFI

"Houses are being painted and streets are being scrubbed... trying to get everything ready for him, even though it's only a short visit," said Bernie, 74, who like his brother Tom, runs a small shop selling religious goods to the 1.5 million pilgrims that come to Knock each year.

"Because he is such a humble man, and a nice man, everybody is dying to have a look at him."

Religion is still deeply embedded in the face of the Irish countryside - roadside grottos with statues of the Virgin Mary are a feature of almost every Irish town and village, with most erected in 1954 when the Vatican called for a Marian year of celebration and devotion.

Like many practicing Catholics across the country, the Byrne brothers hope the papal visit will bring back those that abandoned the church after its standing and influence collapsed over a string of clerical child sex abuse scandals.

"A lot of the youngsters are not going to church now at all, with all the scandal," said Tom.

"The church would have to change to accommodate younger people. Possibly, more than likely, they will have to ordain women priests because they have no priests at the moment to succeed the older priests that are here."

 

"A-LA-CARTE CATHOLICS"

Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit Knock after Pope John Paul II said mass to a crowd of around 450,000 there in 1979. Organizers are expecting a crowd of around 45,000 for Francis.

The proportion of Catholics fell to 78 percent in the most recent census of 2016 from a peak of 95 percent in 1961. Many of those no longer practice, as seen by dwindling mass attendances and the fact that only half of all marriages last year were Catholic ceremonies compared to over 90 percent 20 years ago.

Still, another 500,000 people are expected to watch Pope Francis say mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park on Sunday, including Joe Towell who remembers the "euphoric" scenes in the park 39 years ago when Pope John Paul II prayed there.

Towell, 68, lives with his mother by the nearby O'Devaney gardens flats where he tends to the 1950's complex's statue of Mary. While some locals' cars have been stolen and homes broken into, nobody touches Mary, he says.

Excited about the visit of "another extraordinary type of pope," he sees Francis as bridging a generational gap that has opened between the conservative and liberal wings of the church.

"He's still preaching the same gospel as they've all been preaching. He's just got a little more understanding of the present way people are feeling," Towell said.

For other Catholics, the visit provides a boost to the faithful who are struggling with a social landscape changed beyond recognition by votes in recent years to remove constitutional blocks to abortion and gay marriage.

Ireland became the first country to adopt same-sex marriage by popular vote in a landslide 2015 referendum and last year ended one of the world's strictest abortion regimes by an even larger majority of 66 percent.

"A lot of Catholics have gone a-la-carte, but being Catholic is very serious," said Marie Campbell, who joined thousands of pilgrims who scale Croagh Patrick in the western County Mayo every July in honor of Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint.

"Our Catholic faith stands for life. It's the very center of being Catholic. We cherish life, life is sacred, and a lot of Catholics need to be reminded of these things."

 

For a photo essay click on https://reut.rs/2PpO0H3

(Writing by Graham Fahy, editing by Padraic Halpin and Alexandra Hudson)

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