John Paul and the Celtic Tiger

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Reading the Irish newspapers (Irish Times, Irish Echo, Irish Voice) has been fascinating. You would think John Paul II was an Irishman, so intense has been the coverage. In fact, it was widely claimed that, next to Poland, Ireland was the country where he had the most impact and where the most emotional ties were developed. Indeed, Ireland thought of itself as similar to Poland, a small country which had been dominated by oppressive powers, neglected by the wider world, strong in Catholic faith during a painful history. Therefore the Pope’s visit became for Ireland an occasion of coming out before the world. “The Pope came on stage and a nation screamed out centuries of pent-up frustration. We finally mattered.” (Sean O’Driscoll, The Irish Voice, April 6-12, 2005)

What was remembered? Over and over, these features were recalled:

1. The intensity of his words to the IRA: “I appeal to you in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace.”
2. His extraordinary appeal to the young people who turned out by the hundreds of thousands for the Papal Youth Mass in Galway, the “Catholic Woodstock, only without the drugs and sex.”
3. The largest crowd ever seen in Ireland, 1.25 million—one-third of the total Irish population in 1979—at the Mass in Phoenix Park, Dublin.
4. His keen disappointment at not being allowed to take the message of peace to Northern Ireland, because the IRA had murdered Lord Mountbatten and his grandson only a month before.

Ironically, it is possible that his galvanizing visit helped to jump-start the Celtic Tiger and led to the secularization, materialism and rampant consumerism that characterizes Ireland today. Poland also is a far more materialistic, less fervently Catholic country than it was when Communism collapsed in 1989. Christianity seems to have this effect everywhere that it is taken seriously—-it leads eventually to a more open, more dynamic society and thereby creates more competition for itself. This suggests that authentic Christian renewal is dependent upon alternative resistance groups forming and re-forming within the larger society, a subject to be taken up again from time to time. (Refer to the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas.)

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