Official figures are yet to be confirmed. However, according to estimates, 20 to 40 thousand world delegates and no less than 100 thousand people are expected to participate in the Festival of the Family and attend the Mass scheduled for the following day. Figures would clearly multiply if Pope Francis were to attend. Monsignor Eamon Martin, archbishop of Armagh, President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, presented an overview of the preparations under way for the World Meeting of Families during the CCEE Plenary Assembly in Minsk.
The opening session of the Meeting will take place Tuesday August 21 2018 and will involve the whole of Ireland. An opening ceremony will take place simultaneously in all the different dioceses of Ireland signalling the intention to “consider this World Meeting not as an isolated event but as an opportunity for pastoral ministry in our parishes and across our dioceses.”
“We are happy that the Pope chose Ireland as the 2018 location. We are aware that it was his specific request, for we did not ask to host the meeting. We thus believe that it was Pope Francis’ personal decision.” Francis’ presence has not yet been officially confirmed.
“The indications we have so far are that the Pope wishes to attend, but we understand that this kind of announcement cannot become official until 5 or 6 months before the event, perhaps at the beginning of spring.”
Clearly, if Pope Francis were to attend the Meeting, the numbers of participants would certainly multiply. We are therefore planning the event on the basis of a huge participation.”
Archbishop Martin pointed out that the Meeting in Dublin is the first international meeting on the family after the publication of the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia. “The Pope asked us to ensure that the meeting would provide the opportunity to reflect on the themes enshrined in the document.” Also in this light the Irish Bishops have launched the programme “Amoris: Let’s talk Family! Let’s be Family!” to be carried out in parishes nationwide with the purpose of encouraging families to rediscover the beautiful gift that family is to the world.” “I was present at the 2015 Synod – said Msgr. Martin – but I think the meeting of families is something different; an opportunity for families to meet and speak about themselves and the family.” After the Pastoral Congress on “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World”, scheduled to take place from 22 to 24 August, one of the most beautiful and important moments of the World Meeting will be the Festival of Families.
Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families will be hosted in a deeply changed Ireland. Past Tuesday Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (the most “innovative” Irish leader) told the Irish Parliament that a national vote on whether to legalize abortion will be held next year.
A new referendum only two years after the vote that opened the Country to legislating same-sex marriages.
The referendum, – which could not be the result of a coincidence – is scheduled to take place a few weeks before the visit – yet to be confirmed – of Pope Francis to Dublin.
Archbishop Martin denied the forecasts of media outlets: “The exact date of the referendum is yet to be confirmed. It is rumoured that it may take place in May or June 2018, more than two months before the world meeting of families. The debate on this referendum has been ongoing for years, and the position of the Church in Ireland has always been extremely clear. It’s a special amendment to the Constitution of Ireland that recognizes the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child. The debate focuses on this constitutional specificity. The intention is to repeal this section of the Constitution thereby paving the way to a law legalising abortion.” The Church considers this section of the Constitution as “something beautiful and precious”, “a wonderful declaration of tenderness – the archbishop said – that grants equal rights and value to the mother and to fragile life of the unborn child.
It has been said that the Irish Constitution gives value only to the life of the child, but in reality it establishes a perfect balance, tenderly keeping together the two lives, that of the mother and that of her child, both equally worthy to live.”
The debate is still heated, especially as regards the possibility of abortion in case of fetal distress, incest and rape. “Our message calls for the protection of the dignity of every human person” underlined Msgr. Martin. He added: “I think the Pope is well aware that Ireland, along with many other countries in the Western world, has been subjected to a wave of secularism that brought about a dramatic change.” The vote will therefore take place in a situation marked by “major challenges.” One thing is sure: the meeting of families will be held after the referendum, thus “the debate on the sacredness of human life is likely to linger on in the months to follow”, said the archbishop. “In Amoris laetitia Pope Francis was very clear about the importance of the respect for human life as a fundamental right and as Irish Church it is very important to us that this principle be enshrined in the Constitution and that the equal dignity of the mother and the child remain a founding principle of our legislation.”