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Pope Francis 'personally' chose Ireland for next year's global Catholic summit

Father Tim Bartlett said that there’s still a “tremendous Christian spirit” at this time of year, and that it wasn’t important if people didn’t match the Catholic definition of what an ‘ideal family unit’ should be.

Image: PA Images

NEXT YEAR, ONE of the largest and most significant events in the Catholic Church will take place in Ireland – and that’s partly thanks to Pope Francis, who handpicked Ireland as the preferred host.

Earlier this year, the Irish government expressed its profound disappointment after losing the bid to host the Rugby World Cup, but we’re hosting a different world cup (or chalice) in the form of the World Meeting of Families next year.

Father Tim Bartlett, who’s the general secretary of the World Meeting of Families 2018, told TheJournal.ie that the Pope had hand-picked Ireland for the event because of they’re a “tolerant” and “welcoming” people.

“He personally chose Ireland and the Irish over the other countries who wanted to host it because he knows we’re a welcoming people, and he knows that we’re a tolerant people and he knows that we’re still a very family-orientated culture.

“He also has a great respect for the Irish tradition and history of people of this land going out… to help the poor across the world. And that’s why he admires the Irish so much, in terms of their missionary history and their charitable history.”

The World Meeting of Families events will take place over three days in August 2018; so far, over 4,000 people internationally have registered for the event, and 1,500 people have volunteered to help out over that period.

Among the themes that will be discussed at the event are the impact of technology on the family, the role of the family in terms of its ecological responsibility, and how communities can help couples prepare for marriage.

This is a major international event where we will be welcoming literally thousands of people across the world. Ireland will be on the world stage, there’s also huge international media interest.
It will probably be the largest single event in recent times in Ireland’s history.

In the run up to Christmas, Father Bartlett said that there’s still a “tremendous Christian spirit” at this time of year, that priests still remain at the heart of communities in Ireland, and that it wasn’t important if people didn’t match the Catholic definition of what an ‘ideal family unit’ should be.

Xmas time

Bartlett says that acts of generosity and kindness are increasing every year at Christmas time, and he doesn’t believe that consumerism is elbowing out the religious element at the heart of the festive season.

“I might surprise you when I say no I don’t think the religious dimension is dwindling,” he says.

“Part of the Christmas theme is the idea of goodwill towards all people, and the amount of goodwill that’s expressed at this time of year through charitable activities, events, not least the numbers of young people generously engaging in heroic activities and helping the poor and homeless – all of those things seem to be increasing every year.”

He says that although people shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about not practising Catholicism or even believing in God and celebrating Christmas, he says that it would be “wonderful” if people linked coming together at this time of year with ” love and on the Christian message to come together and celebrate that in a parish community”.

The Pope and the Eighth in 2018

The year that Pope Francis is set to visit, Ireland is likely to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Members of the Catholic Church across the world have constantly held a pro-life view on debates about abortion – that stance is no different here, as Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said on RTÉ earlier this month.

But Father Bartlett says that the Pope’s visit is not about the issues in Ireland, it’s about the World Meeting of Families – which won’t be focused on the repeal or retention of the Eighth Amendment.

“That’s a matter that the Irish Bishops will deal with directly as it arises – they will make their voice heard and others will [too]. The call is for a very respectable debate.”

Even still, there’s been a huge shift in what family is in Ireland. Between the last Papal visit to Ireland in October 1979, the legalisation of divorce and the 2015 Yes Equality campaign have completely altered the idea of what a family can be in Ireland.

The Church took a stance against legalising gay marriage, which was passed in 2015 – so will gay couples and their children be allowed to attend the World Meeting of Families events next year?

Well the event is open to everyone, we will not be asking people what their family circumstances are, should they wish to come.
We hope that everybody who comes acknowledges that this is an event that reflects the Catholic understanding and approach to marriage which includes the call to be inclusive and understanding.

He says that although the scriptures teach of what the ideal family unit is, Pope Francis has said that “we all fall short of ideals”.

“As Pope Francis reminds us, no family dropped from heaven perfectly formed. There are lots of heroic, incredible families who are struggling against the most incredible odds, and that has to be celebrated and acknowledged, even if they don’t live up to what the Church might suggest is the ultimate ideal.

“Just because we don’t live up to an ideal, doesn’t mean we are excluded,” Bartlett says.

When asked what that ideal is, Bartlett said that the “earthly reality” is that all families face difficulties.

“But no matter what shape those challenges take and how that impacts on the form of the family, the key message of this event is, we should still be able to celebrate the genuine love, care, and solidarity that is at the heart of all those family experiences.”

Catholic Ireland

The number of Catholics in Ireland has been steadily decreasing over the past few years, according to Census figures. In 2016, there were 3,729,115 Roman Catholics in Ireland, which makes up 78% of the population (down from 84% in the last census in 2011).

Bartlett says that some of the challenges that remain with the Church include that some people view the Church as a “caricature” of how the Church used to operate; another is reaching people in an increasingly active and busy world.

But he says that a large number of people in communities across the country still rely on priests for “help, advice and support”.

I would say that whenever you listen to the radio, to the television, to the news, whenever there’s a tragedy or difficulty, one of the first people that the local community turn to is their priest and that the media even turn to for comment and understanding about what’s happening.

He says that innovations such as the drive-thru Ash Wednesday and confessionals held in shopping centres are ways in which priests are looking to reach out to people in an increasingly busy, modernised Irish society.

An essential part of that, he says, is to bring up to date an organisation that has existed for thousands of years.

“When people talk about the past, there’s a danger that people think that the Church wants to go back to the past. That is not what the Church wants to do, I think we have to respect the past but essentially learn from it and focus on building a better future.”

Read: Archbishop says Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland will cost around €20 million

Read: One year to go before the world’s Catholics descend on Dublin

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