Organizers of Pope Francis' recently-confirmed visit to Ireland have been advised to avoid laying out pompous processions and expensive stately ceremonies – as the modest pontiff would prefer to visit inmates at Dublin's Mountjoy Prison. Pope Francis is due to visit Ireland in August 2018, after an official invitation was extended to him by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Vatican just over a week ago.
It will be the first papal reception in Ireland since the high-profile visit of John Paul II, when over a million people attended his Mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park.
But event organizers have been urged to prepare for a much more low-key papal visit, which would be in keeping with the themes of mercy and compassion which have to date defined the 79-year-old Argentinian national's papacy.
Fr. Brendan Hoban, co-founder of the 1,000-strong Association of Catholic Priests [ACP], said "When Pope Francis comes he won't be interested in indulging the personal ambitions of career churchmen or in meeting with the Great and the Good of Church or society. He will prefer to visit Mountjoy Gaol or Our Lady's Hospice in Blackrock and he won't allow the papal cavalcade to rush past the poor of Sean McDermott Street as happened in 1979."
County Mayo-based Fr. Hoban also told of his fears that Pope Francis' visit, which will be just two days long and focused on the World Meeting of Families, might not be enough to breathe much-needed new life into the ailing Catholic Church in Ireland.
In his column in the Western People, he argued that the onset of the "stunning decline" of the Catholic Church here can be traced back to the previous papal visit.
He added: "There are many reasons for it: the general collapse of support for institutional religion, the culture wars that ended in bitter defeats in campaigns around contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage and, possibly soon, abortion, the child abuse scandals and the way they were dealt with, and, above all, a refusal or an inability to engage with the modern world.
"After the extraordinary 'success' of the 1979 visit it seemed as if the Catholic Church in Ireland was at the start of a new golden age.
Almost 90 percent of Catholics attended weekly Mass. In a country of three-and-a-quarter million people almost everyone in Ireland turned out to see the pope, with over a million attending the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park. And, as well as a sharp rise in the number of babies being called 'John Paul,' a temporary arrest in the decline in vocations augured well for the future. Catholic Ireland, for a short time, was 'cool.'
"What we didn't contend with, of course, was that we were witnessing not a beginning of something, but an ending."