The festival of families
The atmosphere here was electric. Willa Lamata and I , Maire Lawless , were seated right at the top of the stands quite far from Luisa Arboli who was lower down so we all had slightly different experiences of the event. Willa and I had an amazing panoramic view of the whole scene which meant that when the arena was flooded with flags, the overall effect was full of colour and energy which was thrilling to watch. When this was followed later on by the 500 young dancers from dance schools all over Ireland, we were at first intrigued as they surrounded the whole arena and then thrilled when they all began dancing to accompany what was happening on the main stage. The sight and sound of so many young people dancing so brilliantly was unforgettable.
The whole Festival was very enjoyable but two moments touched us all in a very special way. The first was seeing the 12 year old girl asking Pope Francis if she could have a selfie with him. His agreeing to it so quickly and his obvious enjoyment of the moment too, drew a loud burst of applause from us all because it was so spontaneous and she was a traveller child . (Travellers in Ireland are the equivalent of Romani's in the rest of Europe.) Then he impressed us even further when he enhanced it with a gesture of his hand towards her to show that the applause was for her this time.
The other very special gesture was when the High Hopes choir of those who had experienced homelessness in Ireland sang and the crowd responded by switching on the lights of their phones and lighting up first the whole of one part of the stands and then gradually all of the stands, with spots of light, like tiny stars in what was by then a darkened arena as it was almost 9.00 pm and the light was fading. I joined in, holding up my phone too . It was another magical spontaneous moment of solidarity.
We all trooped home afterwards on crowded buses full of happy people commenting on all that they had seen and enjoyed, ready to start again for Phoenix Park in the morning.
The mass in Phoenix Park
The final Mass in Dublin's largest park was also a very profound experience. Luisa and I were up at six. We had to be in the park by 10.30. as we had volunteered to be Eucharistic Ministers. It was raining heavily as we left to get one of the public transport buses that had created 4 special routes for the day to take us all there. We then walked in the rain for one and a half hours and finally each found our specific sub chapel from which we would be able to distribute the Eucharist. In spite of the rain our spirits were high and we joked and laughed with all of the other volunteers who helped us along the way. We found the tent where food was provided for volunteers and then I returned to my sub chapel to dry out and Luisa went around the site to meet up with her fellow parishioners and Willa .
The music was beautiful and the camaraderie in the tent was even better as we waited for the Pope to arrive at 2.30. His tour of the venue was received very enthusiastically but when he began the Mass with such a moving penitential rite we were all touched so deeply that he was interrupted several times by rounds of applause. He had obviously written this in response to his meeting with the survivors of abuse by the clergy the previous day.
The rest of the liturgy continued very well with many talented singers and thankfully the rain held off for the whole of the Mass. This was a great help. The Pope's homily about a new Pentecost was encouraging and inspiring. This added a note of celebration and hope which was received very well by all. When the time came for communion it was very special to be able to participate in the event in this way as we went two by two with a young umbrella holder, to the corrals. My umbrella holder was so impressed by the experience that she is going to volunteer to be a Eucharistic minister in her Parish. On the way back to the sub chapel I saw an exhausted young person sitting on the ground and asked her if she wanted Holy Communion. She did and received it gratefully and then one of her friends came forward to receive it too. This was in an area where communion had already been distributed. I think these three small incidents of movement towards appreciation of the Eucharist by the young which I had witnessed - I am sure there were many more - were very significant and one of the many graces of this special occasion.
There were other lovely accounts too. One man explained that his elderly parents who were too frail to attend had asked him to bring them Communion from the Pope's Mass. I can imagine their joy and the enduring impact this experience had on them when they received it. Also two young women who said they were not particularly religious , explained that their mother had a dementia and thought she was at the Pope's Mass so they felt that the least they could do was to attend it and lastly there was the young man in my sub chapel who had been up at 5.30 and traveled the two and and a half hour train journey from Cork , just to be a Eucharistic minister for the day. He had to return straight after the Mass as he was working the next day.
All in all it was a very special experience of Eucharist and as Luisa and I made our way home together weary but very happy and waited for Willa, we pondered on this powerful experience which had surpassed all our expectations.
Maire Lawless, from Dublín