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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
cross-town traffic

'Steady flow' arriving in Phoenix Park after a very, very wet start to the day

It was VERY wet. Even so, some pilgrims were here securing the best spots by 9.30. / YouTube

IT WAS BUCKETING down here at the Phoenix Park first thing this morning.

Even still, small groups of pilgrims had already made the long walk from the city centre and elsewhere to claim spots at the barriers nearest the Papal Cross.

They’d been told by organisers to prepare as they would for a Croagh Patrick climb.

A look out the window this morning would have underlined that message a little more forcefully: raincoats and backpacks were the uniform of the day, and everyone we spoke to said they’d brought a packed lunch.

Most of the early arrivals were involved somehow in the ceremony planned for this afternoon. By 9.30, there was a steady stream of choir members – dotted with the occasional priest – making their way through the large seated area and up towards the massive altar/stage.

Most ticket-holders faced a walk of around 4km from the various drop-off points to get to the cross. 500,000 free tickets were sent out in recent weeks, and there are 3,000 singers from parishes across Ireland taking part in today’s Mass.

n1 Nicky Ryan / The site at the park early this morning. Nicky Ryan / /

A massive media tent with 400 work areas has been erected close to the cross, and reporters from around 30 countries – including many religious newspapers and broadcasters, from the US and elsewhere – have set up inside.

Large screens are placed around the huge open space at the base of the cross – which is, of course, the site of Pope John Paul’s 1979 Mass.

More than a million people turned up for that event – believed to be the single largest gathering of Irish people in history.

As Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin noted at the launch of the pope’s visit earlier this summer, that was before the concept of ‘health and safety’ became a thing.

The lower attendance also reflects the drop-off in Mass attendances and a move away from Catholicism across Irish society.

Some of the pilgrims we spoke to on their way into the Mass said they hoped the pope would say something about the Church’s response to clerical abuse today, and whenever we asked specifically about that issue, everyone said it needed to be tackled strongly and comprehensively.

There’s a heavy garda presence in the park today – not surprising, considering that students from Templemore have been drafted in to help out with the operation, and that overtime was halted by the force in some areas of Dublin earlier this year in a bid to save money for the papal visit.

Significant crowds had begun to make their way up Chesterfield Avenue, the park’s main drag, by lunchtime.

The pope is due to arrive at 2.30pm. He’s expected to spend quite a while touring the site in his Popemobile so everyone can have a look at him, close up.

The Solemn Eucharistic Celebration begins at 3pm, and will be over by 5.

The list of banned items for today included drones, spray cans and smoke cannisters.

Happy to report there was no sign of any of the above being carted into the park today. But if you happen to be just leaving the house now, maybe leave the drone at home.

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