News World Roamin’ Pontiff finds a dwindling flock on his visit to Ireland
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Roamin’ Pontiff finds a dwindling flock on his visit to Ireland

Pope Francis gets a rock star welcome from the faithful in Dublin. Photo: AP/Aaron Chown
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On the first day of his historic trip to Dublin the Pope has met Irish clerical abuse survivors and warned that social media poses a threat to “real-life relationships” that can imprison hearts, minds and souls “in a virtual reality”.

The pontiff said families should be asking themselves whether they should cut down on their technology usage and spend more time with each other instead.

More than 80,000 people gathered for a World Meeting of Families festival at Dublin’s Croke Park on Saturday night.

Earlier, the Pope met for an hour and a half with eight survivors of clerical, religious and institutional abuse.

Two people from the Irish Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors who attended the meeting said Francis apologised for what happened in the homes, condemned corruption and cover-ups within the church, and referred to these practices as “caca,” which the interpreter politely translated as “filth you would see in the toilet”.

“I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection and education,” Francis earlier told a state reception attended by more abuse survivors.

“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others – adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.”

Today, Ireland is no longer the staunchly Catholic country it was in 1979, when divorce and contraception were illegal. Over the past three years, voters have approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums, defying the will of the church.

Dublin strollers pause to take in a hoarding plastered with posters demanding justice for victims of clerical abuse. Photo: EPA/Will Oliver

Despite the shadow cast by the abuse scandals, Francis asked that Ireland not forget “the powerful strains of the Christian message” that have sustained it in the past and can continue to do so.

Many of flock were unmoved by the pontifical plea.

Numbers lining the streets or joining the pope in prayer have been noticeably less than the 2.7 million who greeted John Paul II.

Later Pope Francis was treated to a special performance of Riverdance by a troupe of Irish dancers and a rendition of Ave Maria by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Byrne.

The pontiff said social media could serve to build a network of friendships and solidarity, but he warned it should only be used in moderation.

He said it was important that social media “never become a threat to the real-life relationships by imprisoning us in a virtual reality and isolating us from the very real relationships that challenge us to grow”.

Families, the Pope said, should question whether they should be cutting down on the time they spend on technology and be spending more quality time with each other.

“When you use social media too much you go into a sort of an orbit. When at the dinner table, instead of talking to each other within the family, each of you uses his phone to connect with the outside world,” he said. “Then you go into an orbit.”

He said it was dangerous behaviour because it takes away “the completeness of the family” and leads individuals “to a fuzzy life without any substance”.

Pope Francis told attendees that holiness was about the “saints next door”, those ordinary people who reflect God’s presence in the life and history of the world.

He said the vocation to love and to holiness was not something reserved for a privileged few.

The Pope highlighted the difficulties some families, who have to flee their homes in search of security and peace, have to endure.

“A family’s love and faith can be a source of strength and peace even amid the violence and destruction caused by war and prosecution,” he said.

The three words that every family needs to know, the pontiff said were “sorry, please and thank you”.

Pope Francis made the crowd repeat after him “sorry, please and thank you” and he advised families not to go to bed angry.

“When you quarrel … say you’re sorry,” he said.

“Before the day is over, that’s when you have to make peace …  because if you don’t … it’s very dangerous.”

-AAP