HUNDREDS of people from across Strabane are expected to travel to Dublin today for the first papal visit to these shores in almost 40 years.
With three buses running from Strabane alone and with many more people making the journey by car, overall the event is set to attract over half a million people from across the island of Ireland.
Pope Francis will become only the second pontiff to visit the Republic, following John Paul II’s epic visit in 1979.
This weekend his Holiness’s 36-hour visit will begin on Saturday, ending with a papal Mass at Dublin’s Phoenix Park on Sunday.
On Saturday evening, Pope Francis will attend the Festival of Families concert in Croke Park, an event held as part of the tri-annual World Meeting of Families.
More than 70,000 are ticketed for the concert, to see musical acts including Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, country singers, Nathan Carter and Daniel O’Donnell and The Priests.
“I went to Galway the last time in ‘79 to see Pope John Paul II,” local man, Danny Blee said this week. “It was a fantastic experience. And I think this will be the same.
“The man that’s pope at the moment, you’d have to go and see him. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience – although I remember saying that the last time too.”
As part of his visit Pope Francis will visit Knock as well as a private visit to the Capuchin Day Centre, a facility for homeless people.
According to the Vatican, the pope will also meet victims of clergy sexual abuse.
He previously condemned the “atrocities” of child sexual abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups in the church.
One of the local clergymen making the journey this weekend is Fr Roland Colhoun from Newtownstewart. He says he remembers well the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979.
He also expects a huge number of local people to head south this weekend.
“Half a million people have been ticketed and I’m still getting calls every day from people looking to go but I’m having to turn people down,” he explained.
“We’re taking a busload of 50 people or so, down to the Mass at the Phoenix Park on Sunday.”
According to the local priest some older people who applied for tickets have had to turn them down.
“There’s a 5k walk from the bus to the Phoenix Park and then back again, which is fine if you’re fit and well,” he said.
“Some elderly people had booked expecting to be dropped off at the Phoenix Park… they had to opt out.
“There is probably no easy way to do it – it’s a pilgrimage. The desire is there but it’s like Jesus said, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’.”
It is also understood that a number of local priests are unable to make the journey south, as local masses remain to be celebrated.
Posted: 10:00 am August 25, 2018