Pope's costly visit will stick in the craw of the homeless

Ahead of his visit to Ireland this year, Colette Sheridan asks if a €20 million spend on his trip here, would sit well with Pope Francis
Pope's costly visit will stick in the craw of the homeless
Pope Francis salutes as he leaves after celebrating a Mass in Genoa, Italy. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

WITH a CV that includes a spell working in a bar in Buenos Aries as a bouncer, Pope Francis knows all about separating the riff-raff from more desirable guests.

But when he comes to Ireland next August, he will experience, yet again, how the tables have turned, when he’ll be accompanied by many bouncers, otherwise known as security staff, to make sure that he is not hassled, attacked, or even assassinated.

And there will, presumably, be much fine dining in salubrious establishments as well as meeting the great and the good when the pope comes to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.

But does all this pomp and ceremony sit easily with a pope who lives in a small guesthouse in the Vatican rather than the traditional, more luxurious apartments that previous pontiffs lived in?

This is a man who, in the Catholic Church’s top job, likes to cook his own meals and has a weakness for pizza. Apparently, he cooks a mean paella. So far, so very ordinary.

This people’s pope, who has more twitter followers than Bono, Simon Cowell and Nathan Carter combined, is all about presenting an image that is far removed from the ostentation of the Vatican. I bet Pope Francis hates waste.

But I wonder how it sits with him that the cost of his visit to Ireland will be in the region of €20 million, according to the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin?

That’s a lot of money for the humble Jesus’s representative on earth.

About €5 million has already been raised through church collections and the remainder will mostly come from fund-raising. Catholics will have to dig deep to pay for the presence of their VIP.

Not being a papal groupie, I can’t get excited about his visit, but the amount of money supposedly required for his being on Irish soil seems outrageous in a country where homelessness is the biggest social issue affecting families.

If people can cough up the guts of €20 million for the pope’s visit (the State may make a contribution along the lines of what it spent on Queen Elizabeth’s visit), you can’t help wondering how successful a serious fund-raising drive for the homeless would be.

Not that the public should have to shoulder the burden of building houses. We already pay our taxes. But priorities are a little skewed when the cost of the visit of the pope would house thousands of families.

Ironically, the pope wants to meet people here who are experiencing poverty. “I could see him doing something with the homeless, I’d like him to meet with Travellers (and) to show solidarity with young people,” says Archbishop Martin.

Talk about the opium of the masses! There you are, staying in a claustrophobic hotel room with young kids, trying to dry clothes in the cramped living space and trying valiantly to have some sort of family life. And you have the pope kissing your baby if you’re so lucky. Or you get a sighting of him on TV as he says Mass in the Phoenix Park.

Just how relevant is the pope’s visit to the oppressed lives of many of our citizens?

Yes, I know, the pope is all about symbolism and empathy, particularly with the poor. But what does the pope know about the struggle to rear a family when some don’t even have a home of their own?

Ireland is a very different country than the one Pope John Paul II (spawning a whole load of lads christened John Paul) visited in 1979. Back then, the pope uttered the famous line: “Young people of Ireland, I love you..”

Will today’s young people flock to Mass in the Phoenix Park where the current pope will preside? I doubt it. They’d be more inclined to stage protests at the church’s attitude towards gay people. And the church’s abuse scandal has severely dented its popularity.

Incredibly, between September 29 and October 1 in 1979, 2.5 million people went to see Pope John Paul II at events all across the country. A third of the population attended the Mass he held in the Phoenix Park. Not even the biggest rock star on the planet would attract such enormous crowds.

What was it all about? We were a more innocent country back then, although there was violence in the north. Many hadn’t yet learned that the church didn’t merit what back then was unquestioning faith.

I was a conscientious objector though, spurning an invitation from my mother to go and see the pope. My youngest brother went along. Today, he wouldn’t have a shred of interest in the pope. It will be interesting to see how Pope Francis is received. Certainly, he seems more tolerant than previous incumbents. Being personable might swing it for him.

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