Pope Francis today urged the people of the Diocese of Limerick to pray for him as he greeted Bishop Brendan Leahy and Bishop Emeritus Donal Murray at his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Bishops Leahy and Murray are leading a 35 strong group of pilgrims from the diocese who travelled to Rome to mark the feast-day today of Saint John Paul.
There was further joy for the group as Pope Francis even went as far as to single them out in his greeting to over 70,000 people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Cathechesis.
Bishops Leahy and Murray had the privilege of meeting directly with Pope Francis and, during the brief exchange, presented him with ‘The Diocese of Limerick – An Illustrated History’ book, which was published late last year, as well Bishop Leahy’s recent pastoral letter announcing a Synod for Limerick.
Speaking following the meeting, Bishop Leahy said, “It was a wonderful privilege to meet Pope Francis. We made the most of the moment by presenting him with the book on the history of Limerick Diocese as well the pastoral letter on the Synod.
“Pope Francis has a remarkable aura of spirituality and humility and he just lifted his eyes to us and said ‘pray for me’. I felt it was like a message to the whole diocese and so I would ask the people of Limerick to please do as Pope Francis asks and pray for him.
“Pope Francis has had a remarkable impact since his papal inauguration. He has shown his intention to encourage creativity and mission in the Church. He has been courageous and selfless in this and he does, indeed, need our prayers as he continues on this path to creating a more Spirit – filled and united Church.
“This morning was special for our pilgrims and the Diocese in that not alone did Bishop Murray and I as the bishop and emeritus bishop of Limerick get to meet him but in greeting visitors from the English speaking world to the 70,000 strong crowd , he referenced the Limerick Diocese pilgrims in particular. Indeed our group was allocated special seats just in front of the Pope. Also, one of our group, Mary Fitzpatrick from the Holy Family Parish in Southill, touched his hand as he went past. It was really a special morning for us all.”
Limerick Diocese pilgrims were overjoyed afterwards. Said Denise Hannan, from St. Mary’s Parish, “It was an incredible experience, the best I have had. For me the biggest memory was being so close to Pope Francis. It was the nearest thing to meeting God.”
Sean O’Shaughnessy, from Kilcornan added, “I was so proud to be a Limerick man when the Pope mentioned about the Limerick Diocese.”
Yesterday morning the Limerick group had the pleasure also of celebrating Mass at the tomb of Saint John Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica. On the eve of the late Pontiff’s feast day, the Limerick Diocese group had the special altar at the newly beatified Saint’s tomb to themselves for the 7.15 a.m. Mass.n his homily at the Mass, Bishop Emeritus Donal Murray recalled the profound impact that Saint John Paul left on Limerick all of 35 years ago when he celebrated Mass at the former city racecourse. “We were especially privileged when Pope John Paul II spoke to the people of Limerick and, as he put it, to pobal dilis na Mumhan.
“He summed it up when he said, ‘Lay people today are called to a strong Christian commitment, to permeate society with the leaven of the Gospel, for Ireland is at a point of decision in her history’. 35 years on, there is no room for doubt now about how right he was. Ireland has indeed been at a point of decision and we have many reasons to ask whether we are always choosing wisely. We know well that these are crucial years for our country and for our Church,” said Bishop Murray.
The Limerick Pilgrimage arrived in Rome on Saturday, primarily in honour of St. John Paul’s feast day. During its time in Rome the group has also celebrated Mass in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, attended the Mass with Pope Francis for the closing of the Synod on the Family and the Beatification of Pope Paul VI and Mass in the Catacombs yesterday (Monday).
Bishop Leahy said that the entire pilgrimage, not least the privilege of meeting Pope Francis and celebrating Mass at Saint John Paul’s tomb, had a great sense of serenity and peace.
“It’s been a wonderful few days, full of grace, meeting Pope Francis and visiting the sacred places but also meeting people from all over the world, including many young people here in Rome for the various functions,” Bishop Leahy added.