Many things have changed in Ireland since the birth of our Taoiseach and the last visit from a Pope. 

In August 2018, Pope Francis will visit Dublin for two days and celebrate Mass at Croke Park and the Phoenix Park as part of the World Meeting of Families. This is the first time since 1979 that a Pontiff has visited Ireland and between then and now, massive changes have taken place in the country. 

Thirty-nine years ago, 91 percent of people in Ireland went to Mass on a regular basis and in the biggest televised event ever to take place in Ireland, 1.25 million turned out to witness Pope John Paul II celebrate Mass in Phoenix Park, a stunningly high percentage of the Irish population.

Read more: Pope Francis Ireland schedule for first Papal visit in 40 years confirmed

Nowadays things are different, of course, especially in terms of the role the Catholic Church plays in Irish life. In 2015, Ireland voted for equal marriage rights for the LGBT community and in May 2018, Ireland will hold a referendum which could lead to a change in the country's strict law on abortion rights.

And serendipitously (or a sign from the Gods, depending on what you’re into), the very year Pope John Paul visited Ireland, Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s current Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and the country's first openly gay leader was born.

Read more: Irish leader Leo Varadkar slams Trump White House on gay rights

Before Pope Francis visits, it’s probably best to read up some facts and Ireland and the Catholic Church and how they both stand with each other now:

How many people in Ireland identify as Catholic? 

Image: iStock.

Image: iStock.

The 2016 Census indicated that Ireland remains a strongly Roman Catholic country, with 78.3% of the population identifying as such. This represents a fall of 5.9% since the last census in 2011 and a fall of 13.3% over a 25 year period since the 1991 Census but still resolutely strong.

The Irish embassy in the Vatican

St. Peter's at the Vatican. Image: iStock.

St. Peter's at the Vatican. Image: iStock.

In 2011 the Irish government closed the embassy to the Vatican, which marked an all-time low for relations between the Catholic Church and Ireland. This closure was due to the Irish Church’s handling of clerical sexual abuse and accusations that the Vatican encouraged secrecy. The embassy reopened in 2014.

How many people attend Mass in Ireland? 

Image: iStock.

Image: iStock.

While daily Mass attendance in Ireland was 13% in 2006 there had been a reduction in weekly attendance from 81% to 48% between 1990 and 2006. The decline was reported as leveling off, however. In the 1970s, a survey had given figures at 91%.  In 2011, it was reported that weekly Mass attendance in Dublin was on average 18%.

Ireland's abortion laws and Catholicism

Pro-choice protesters in Dublin. Image: RollingNews.ie.

Pro-choice protesters in Dublin. Image: RollingNews.ie.

A new opinion poll from the Irish Times/MRBI shows a clear majority of the Irish public favor abortion rights for women in Ireland up to 12 weeks. Some 1,200 Irish were polled in a face-to-face interview in which 59% said they were in favor of a change to the constitution which would introduce abortion in Ireland during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. While 15% were undecided or gave no response, just 29% said they would vote against.

Will you turn out to see the Pope when he visits Ireland? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to a priest. RollingNews.ie