Holy Show

Pope dolls and stained-glass Skodas: Day 1 at the World Meeting of Families

Catholics from around the world began to gather at the RDS this morning – here’s how it played out.

PRIESTS, NUNS, AND the faithful from around the world descended upon the RDS in less than divine weather conditions this morning.

The pope’s visit may be the main event this weekend but this, essentially, is the event he’s coming to address – the World Meeting of Families.

Held every three years, it’s one of the Catholic Church’s big set-piece international events. The official description says it’s about bringing families from around the world together “to celebrate, pray and reflect upon the central importance of marriage and the family as the cornerstone of our lives, of society and of the Church”.

There was a queue to get in the door as arrived in time for the first panel discussions this morning.

In the main exhibition hall, merchants selling everything from church organs and ecclesiastical garments to garden furniture competed for the attentions of attendees next to stalls run by various religious orders, retreat centres like Lough Derg and Catholic charities like Trocaire.

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In one of the larger conference rooms, and audience of about 200 were listening to a panel discussion on homelessness featuring speakers from Irish and UK charities.

Underscoring the international aspect of the event, when it came to the Q&A section those taking to their feet included people from Boston, South Africa and France. Translators sitting in a corner booth provided live Spanish and Italian updates, and a smattering of attendees held audio headpieces throughout.

By mid-morning the RDS’s food and coffee stalls were bustling as more people arrived – often in groups, and some even carrying flags denoting their country of origin. In terms of age profile – not unexpectedly, Irish attendees appeared to skew older but the international groups had a higher representation of students and families with children.

“It’s great. It’s light, it’s relaxed and it’s people interested in the Church,” Brother Sean Donohoe of the Capuchin Day Centre said, chatting outside one of the venue’s many cafes.

It is hugely international because it’s a world meeting – it’s not an Irish meeting, it’s not about the Irish Church. It’s about the worldwide Church but it mirrors what’s happening in Ireland too – we have so many nationalities now.

Brother Sean’s centre, which provides 900 meals a day for those in need, will welcome Pope Francis this Saturday evening. Brother Sean himself wouldn’t have a chance to stick around to listen to any more speakers today, he said: “I have to go and get the dinner on“.

wmof 8038_90552062 Sam Boal Sam Boal

In another large conference space, a capacity crowd listened to UCD cyberpsychologist Dr Mary Aiken and other experts at a panel discussion titled ‘Dignity and Safety in a Digital Age’.

Other events on the programme for today included discussions on families coping with addiction, ‘throw-away’ culture and a discussion extolling the benefits of getting married in the Catholic Church.

Organisers of the three-day pastoral congress, speaking at the daily afternoon press conference, talked up the fact that such a large number of women were taking part in the panels as speakers and moderators.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who is host of the event, also spoke of his relief that it was all finally under way – saying he was now able to “breathe easier”.

Press coverage of the event in recent weeks has focused on issues like the decision to deny an exhibition stand to the group We Are Church Ireland, which advocates for the inclusion of LGBT families in the Church.

Former President Mary McAleese has also criticised the RDS event, describing it in a radio interview last weekend as a right-wing rally.

“It was designed for that purpose,” McAleese said, “to rally people to get them motivated to fight against the tide of same-sex marriage, rights for gays, abortion rights, contraceptive rights”.

Inside the exhibition space various pro-life groups handed out leaflets and answered questions from attendees.

The Holy Family Mission, which runs year-long courses for young people seeking to develop their faith, said they had had plenty of interest in the course of the day so far.

In the middle of the busy main hall, a group gathered at a Catechism studies stall for prayers marking the midday Angelus.

Other stalls offered religious CDs, books and decorations – and towards the back of the arena a Skoda decked out with specially-commissioned stained glass windows provided an unexpected talking point (don’t worry, no-one’s planning to drive it anywhere).

The most popular stall? If the number of people stopping for selfies with the merchandise is anything to go by it has to be the stand offering officially-licensed Pope Francis dolls.

In case you’re interested – yes, they’re here all week, while stocks last, and they’re €35 a pop (a pope).

pope doll 761_90552013 Sam Boal Sam Boal

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