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I remember the last papal visit to Ireland. It was 1979, and I was aged 13. I went to a Christian Brothers school. I sang at mass every Sunday, occasionally did readings, and the youth group I attended every week took place in a convent.
I remember being envious because my older brother and sister got to see the pope, but I didn’t. I was in the minority in that regard: a staggering 75% of the population saw John Paul II during his three-day visit. One-third of the population attended the papal mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. That event remains the largest single mobilisation of people in Irish history.
I remember the most iconic moment of the visit, during a youth mass in Galway. The pope’s voice booming out across a crowd of 300,000 young people as he proclaimed: “Young people of Ireland, I love you!” I remember the ecstatic cheering of that huge crowd in response. And I remember my own heart feeling like it might burst as I watched it all unfold on television. I believed him. He loved us. No one had ever said that before. It was huge.