ROME — Speaking of his recent visit to Ireland Wednesday, Pope Francis said the trip was a mixed bag in which he came face to face with both the joy exuded by families of all ages who turned out for the papal events, and the pain of those impacted by the abuses perpetrated by the Catholic Church in the country.
In his general audience Aug. 29, the pope said the thousands of families who participated in the World Meeting of Families event and who attended papal activities “were an eloquent sign of the beauty of the dream of God for the entire human family.”
Pointing to the theme for the Aug. 22-26 gathering, “The Gospel of the Family, Joy for the World,” he said families are called to “make the joy of the Gospel shine, radiating the love of Christ.”
“The dream of God is unity, harmony and peace, which are fruits of fidelity, forgiveness and the reconciliation that he has given us in Christ,” he said, adding that God calls every family to “participate in this dream and to make the world a home where no one is alone, unwanted or excluded.”
However, alongside this joy, Francis said he also tasted the “pain and bitterness” caused by various abuses caused by members of the Catholic Church in the country, including clerical sexual abuse by priests, the mistreatment of children in schools and mother and baby homes, and the forced adoptions of babies born to unwed mothers.
Francis, who visited the country Aug. 25-26, noted how in the past, ecclesial authorities “did not know how to respond in an adequate way to these crimes.” Pointing to a meeting he held with abuse survivors on Saturday, the pope said the discussion left a “deep impression” on him.
He noted how on several occasions, in nearly every speech, he brought up the topic of abuse and asked for forgiveness not only for the scandal, but also the sense of betrayal people feel.
The bishops, he said, have undergone “a serious process of purification and reconciliation” with those who have suffered abuse. And with the help of authorities, he added, they have since been able to establish a set of norms and guidelines to help ensure child safety.
Speaking of his meeting with bishops, Francis said he was able to encourage them in their efforts to “remedy the failings of the past with honesty and courage, trusting in the promises of the Lord and counting on the deep faith of the Irish people, in order to inaugurate a season of renewal of the Church in Ireland.”
Ireland, the pope said, has “a great faith,” but few vocations to the priesthood. This is due in part to the scandals, and in part to the rapid growth of secularism in the country, he said, and asked pilgrims to join him in praying a Hail Mary so that “the Lord sends holy priests” to serve in the country.
Pointing to several “points of light” during his visit, Francis highlighted the testimonies he heard from families of all ages and stages, including elderly couples married for more than 50 years, and young couples either preparing for marriage, or who had been married recently.
“Their stories reminded us that the love of marriage is a special gift from God, cultivated every day in the domestic Church, which is the family,” he said, adding that the testimonies also bore witness to how “faith takes place in daily life, around the table of the home, and spreads its beauty in the vast community of the Church and society.”
“How much the world needs a revolution of love, of tenderness! And this revolution begins in the heart of the family,” he said, and pointed to the importance of fostering strong ties between generations, especially between youth and their grandparents.
In off-the-cuff remarks, Francis, as he has often done in the past, said grandparents tend to be seen as burdensome by the “culture of waste.”
Grandparents are often “discarded,” he said, but in the family, they have an essential role. “They are wisdom, they are the memory of the people, the memory of the family.” Grandparents must transmit this memory to the children, he said, and children “must speak with their grandparents…please, don’t discard grandparents!”
Francis also pointed to his visit to a Capuchin soup kitchen, where he met some 80 homeless persons served on a daily basis by the Capuchin friars who run the center in Dublin, which feeds some 1,000 of the city’s impoverished population a day. The center, he said, is a concrete sign of “the solidarity and support which are fruits of charity.”
Looking ahead to the next international World Meeting event, which will be held in Rome in 2021, Francis entrusted all families to the protection of the Holy Family, “so that in their homes, parishes and communities they can truly be joy for the world.”