THE Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles J Brown, was mobbed when he came to Skibbereen on Sunday to launch booklet about St Patrick’s Cathedral.
All the pews in the cathedral were full for the 11.30am mass, which was celebrated by Archbishop Brown, Fr Michael Kelleher and Fr Chris O’Donovan, and the vast majority of the people stayed on afterwards for the launch of the booklet, and to have their photograph taken with the Pope’s representative here in Ireland.
Hundreds more attended a social gathering at the West Cork Hotel – a large and rather gregarious event where refreshments were served, St Fachtna’s Silver Band played and lots more people respectfully lined up to have their photograph taken with the very genial Archbishop.
And – as if the day wasn’t full enough – a crowd also gathered at St Patrick’s Cathedral at 4pm to join the Archbishop, as well as Philip O’Regan and Gerald O’Brien – the two authors of the new visitors’ guide to the cathedral – and took part in a historical tour.
The Archbishop’s visit was historic in and of itself, because not since 1954 – when Archbishop Gerald Patrick O’Hara celebrated mass at St Patrick’s – has there been a visit by a Papal Nuncio to Skibbereen.
But it had similarities, too, because the Papal Nuncio quoted Archbishop O’Hara saying: ‘The quote sums up what I feel in my heart.’
In 1954, Archbishop O’Hara said: ‘One can look at Ireland through various eyes. The eyes of a tourist can admire the physical beauty, the scenery of the country. One can look at Ireland from the standpoint of the statesman, the businessman, or the politician.
‘But I prefer to look at Ireland through the eyes of the priest. Far more fascinating than the beauty of its scenery is the beauty of Irish hearts and souls.’
Archbishop Brown said: ‘That was true in 1954, and it is true in 2017.’ Another similarity was that Archbishop O’Hara spoke about the sadness felt by Pope Pius XII when he considered that people were losing their Catholic faith.
Archbishop Brown said he had come to Skibbereen, principally, ‘to encourage you in your Catholic faith. We know that the overall practice of the faith has declined in Ireland. There is no doubt about that.’
But, he maintained: ‘We are in a new era, a new moment, and this is our moment. We are here, in 2017, to live our Catholic faith with joy, with conviction, with courage in a world where not everyone is going along with the Catholic momentum.’
The Archbishop said the bedrock of Irish faith was laid down a long time ago when people lived their faith under persecution and famine. He said: ‘They kept their faith in a time when it was difficult. That is what embedded the faith in the hearts of the Irish people.’
And, he told the congregation: ‘If we live our faith, today, with joy and conviction, with courage, then the future is ours because the faith is true.’
After mass, Archbishop Charles Brown told The Southern Star he wasn’t in the least bit fazed by the size, or the enthusiasm, of the crowds. He said: ‘I love to get out of Dublin. I’m always happy to leave the capital city and to see life in the towns and villages of Ireland.
‘It is always very encouraging for me. So, today’s visit was precisely that: it was incredibly edifying to see the life of the faith in Skibbereen, to see a cathedral church crowded with families, and little children, and old people, and people in-between, celebrating their Catholic faith.
‘It makes me reflect on the fact that the Catholic faith has been here for 1,500 years – 15 centuries. In America,’ said the Archbishop, who hails from New York, ‘we think things are old if they are 60 years old, or 100 years old. And 200 years old is considered amazing.
‘Obviously, the church goes through its periods of strength and its periods of weakness, but the faith carries on.’
The Archbishop also spoke about Pope Francis. He said he believes his visit to Ireland in 2018 will be inspiring because he is ‘an incredibly radiant witness to the beauty of the Catholic faith.’