Pope Francis is travelling to Dublin for the start of an historic two-day visit to Ireland. He took off on an Alitalia flight from Rome just before 8.30am local time, and is due to land at Dublin Airport after 10am. The Pontiff will visit the country for a tour of Dublin and Co Mayo. It is the first time a pope will visit Ireland since Pope John Paul II in 1979. The Papal mass tomorrow, which is the centrepiece of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF), will draw in a crowd of half a million people at the Phoenix Park. Pilgrims have already flooded Dublin Airport hours before the Pope touches down at 10.30am.
An airport spokesman said there had been a huge amount of planning with stakeholders and state agencies to ensure the Pontiff’s arrival goes smoothly.
More than half a million people will travel to see Pope Francis and gardaí are urging the public to use public transport to attend events in Dublin and Knock.
A number of park-and-ride hubs are being set up to facilitate the huge crowds as most roads will be closed in Dublin city centre for the weekend to cater for the numbers.
The WMOF pastoral congress has seen tens of thousands of people from more than 110 countries flood through the doors of the RDS, however it is an event that has been overshadowed by the Catholic Church’s treatment of sex abuse survivors.
Pope Francis has said he will meet survivors of clerical sex abuse in private at some point of his trip.
Other items on the Pope’s agenda include a meeting with President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin and a state event in Dublin Castle with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
There will be a parade through Dublin city centre with extensive traffic disruption expected and he will visit the Capuchin Day Centre of Brother Kevin Crowley, which offers outreach services to the homeless of Dublin.
Later this evening, he will give a speech at the Festival of Families event at Croke Park.
Tomorrow, he will fly to Knock Shrine ahead of a mass in Phoenix Park, which is expected to be attended by up to 500,000 people. Pope Francis leaves Ireland on Sunday evening.
Abuse survivors, campaigners and the wider public will be waiting to hear whether he will address the abuse issues in public.
Yesterday, abuse survivor Marie Collins told a session on safeguarding children at the WMOF, that members of clergy and lay people in the Catholic Church believe abuse scandals are a “media conspiracy.”
Earlier this week, Pope Francis wrote a 2,000-word letter to Catholics in which he condemned the crime of sexual abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups.
The Pope demanded accountability in response to new revelations in the US of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church.
Speaking about the letter, Ms Collins said: “Survivors and victims of abuse don’t need a letter from the Pope to know this is a reality. We’ve been speaking about this for decades.”
She also told delegates that canon law had been used to protect and not punish offenders.
While Ms Collins made her speech, other survivors of clerical abuse called for a zero-tolerance approach to be taken against priests involved in abuse scandals.