Pope Francis came, met, spoke softly and left. There have been plenty of column inches written and digital footage broadcast over last weekend. Lots of it has focussed not just on the visit, but on the cases of abuse, the church hierarchy’s response and the future of the Catholic church. Rightly so, these are hugely important issues.
I was present at both Croke Park and Phoenix Park. I was working as a steward; part of the time I was flat out, but at other times I could take in aspects of what was going on. Sleep deprivation and weather aside (early morning gales in the middle of a field are not fun) it was an easy event to steward. People were friendly, chatty and excited.
I am not Catholic, my denomination elects a different leader every year (and it could be argued they don’t actually get to lead.) Nevertheless, it was a privilege to be a tiny part on the periphery of a hugely important event for many people. I thought the programme in Croke Park was beautifully constructed, blending a mixture of ‘professionals’ with the participation of many others, as well as the sharing of stories. For example, Riverdance, as enthralling as ever, was performed on stage, while around the arena other younger Irish dancers joined in.
The events did not lack atmosphere, and it was a joy to get some sense of what the pope’s visit meant to the people who came to them.
On social media, both before and after the visit, I have noticed with disappointment on a variety of related threads, the posts of presumably Protestant users pointing out where and how they believe Roman Catholic theology to be inadequate. When challenged on the appropriateness of their assertions, many responded that they were simply communicating ‘the gospel’. On Friday, driving across Belfast, I eventually abandoned Radio Ulster altogether, as I couldn’t stand listening to another caller phone in to inform listeners of how Catholic people were being led astray by their church, and they could be ‘saved’.
Everybody has a right to their own religion; they also have the right to talk about it (though for future reference, Radio Ulster, the third preacher caller was when you lost me). Everybody has the right to compare and contrast and make preferences, but it concerns me that too often we shoot from the hip. We skip questions like, what is happening here? Or, what does this mean for people? Why is this important to them?
Instead, we very often fill in the gaps with our own uninformed answers and miss out on the opportunity to broaden what we know of the world. Sometimes it’s best just to leave the gun in the holster, and ask a few open questions.