Pope expected to draw 500,000 for mass

Pope Francis is greeted by a delegation of clergy and representatives from Ireland West Airport as he arrives at the airport in Knock in County Mayo, as part of his visit to Ireland. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Pope Francis is greeted by a delegation of clergy and representatives from Ireland West Airport as he arrives at the airport in Knock in County Mayo, as part of his visit to Ireland. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Around half a million people are expected to gather to hear Pope Francis address a huge outdoor Mass on the second day of his historic visit to Ireland.

A total of 500,000 free tickets have been distributed for the landmark religious event in Dublin’s Phoenix Park this afternoon.

The event, which will conclude the pontiff’s weekend trip to Ireland, will take place after Francis visits the Knock Holy shrine in Co Mayo, a site revered by many Irish Catholics.

The religious engagements come after a day dominated by the bitter legacy of historic scandals linked to church abuse and mistreatment in Ireland.

On Saturday, the Pope met a number of victims of criminality and cruelty inflicted by church members.

The private engagement in Dublin came hours after Francis expressed “pain and shame” over failures to tackle the scandals.

The world leader of the Catholic Church acknowledged that Irish people had a right to be outraged by its response to the crimes.

Later, inside a Dublin cathedral, he prayed for all victims of clerical sex abuse at a candle perpetually lit in tribute to them.

The Pope’s decision to address the dark legacy of abuse in a speech in Dublin Castle drew praise in some quarters, but others criticised Francis for not saying enough or offering a public apology.

With the reverberations of a litany of clerical sex crimes casting a shadow over the first papal visit to Ireland in almost 40 years, Francis acknowledged the gravity of what had happened.

“With regard to the most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection and education,” he said.

“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities - bishops, religious superiors, priests and others - adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.

“I myself share those sentiments.”

On Saturday, the Pope also visited homeless people who receive support from a centre run by the Capuchin Fathers’ religious order.

In his Dublin Castle speech, the pontiff also expressed hope that remaining obstacles to reconciliation in Northern Ireland could be overcome.

Ireland has undergone seismic social changes in the four decades since the last papal visit in 1979, when John Paul II was lauded by a nation shaped by its relationship with an all-powerful Catholic Church.

But the church’s response to clerical sex abuse scandals, most of which emerged years after John Paul II’s visit, have severely damaged trust in the religious institution and seriously weakened its influence on Irish society.

While thousands lined the streets of the capital to catch a glimpse of Francis passing in his famous Popemobile on Saturday afternoon, the crowds were certainly not on the scale witnessed when John Paul II made a similar trip.

And among the well-wishers lining Dublin’s streets there were also protesters, who vented their anger at the pontiff as he drove by.

As the morning progressed, pilgrims prepared for torrential rain began arriving at a Catholic shrine in Ireland ahead of Pope Francis’ visit.

Knock in Co Mayo was said to be the site of an apparition in 1879. Francis is following in the footsteps of his predecessor John Paul II, who arrived at the hallowed spot in 1979.

Pale blue flags were given out and plastic ponchos to protect against the elements were ubiquitous.

Those attending included the young and the elderly, some in wheelchairs and at least one with a guide dog.

The Rev Thomas Harrington from Cork displayed a VIP invite and joked with photographers “I will sue you”, as he made his way in using a mobility aid.

The rector of Knock Shrine said he expects Pope Francis to address issues which are paramount to the Catholic Church.

Fr Richard Gibbons told Irish broadcaster RTE he hoped the remarks would be significant and would have a resonance with those in attendance and the wider church community.

Francis will spend around an hour at the shrine this morning.

He is expected to meet local families, pray and address around 45,000 people at the ticketed event.

The area around the site is in security lockdown and there were queues for checks at the entrances.

Despite the weather, there was a sense of bonhomie among the pilgrims, with cheery greetings exchanged.

The shrine is dominated by an enormous Celtic-style cross.

A large stage was established, with a lectern for speeches, but those gathered to greet him were told they would get close to the Pope as he tours the site.

The crowd sang Ave Maria and waved blue Knock flags as they awaited the pontiff’s arrival.

They listened to the tale of 15 ordinary people who witnessed an extraordinary apparition surrounded by brilliantly bright light, the experience lasting for more than two hours.

Their sworn testimony was relayed to the pilgrims.

A big screen showed views of the crowd, inevitably prompting flag-waving with even greater gusto.

The papal flag, an Irish tricolour and the EU’s standards flew.

The Pope has landed at Knock airport in Co Mayo ahead of his visit to the famous Holy shrine.

Around 100 schoolchildren from Co Mayo were awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis.

Four local schools were there to greet the pontiff as he landed in heavy rain for the start of his second day visit to Ireland. They waved Vatican and Mayo flags.

In August 1879, 15 people said they saw an apparition in Knock of the Virgin Mary, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and a lamb.

Around 1.5 million people visit the site every year.

The Pope has arrived at the Knock shrine in Co Mayo.

He climbed the steps of a Popemobile - the second being used in Ireland during his visit - ahead of a tour through the thousands of pilgrims who have gathered amid torrential rain to see the pontiff.

Francis waved to well wishers as he was driven past the flag waving crowds.