Dublin (AFP) – Pope Francis touched down in Dublin on Saturday for an historic two-day visit to Ireland, where the Catholic Church is battling to regain trust following multiple scandals.
His Alitalia “Shepherd One” flight landed under cloudless skies at 10:26am (0926 GMT), where deputy head of government Simon Coveney and his children were waiting to meet him with a bouquet of white and yellow roses with Irish foliage.
Hundreds of thousands of wellwishers and over a 1,000 journalists are expected to follow Francis during his tour of Dublin and County Mayo in the far west of the country.
Francis will tour Dublin on Saturday on his Popemobile before visiting a hostel for homeless families and giving a speech at Croke Park stadium.
The highlight of the visit will be an outdoor mass in the city’s Phoenix Park on Sunday, expected to draw 500,000 people — a tenth of the country’s entire population.
It is the first papal visit to Ireland since Pope John Paul II spoke to a crowd of 1.5 million people there in 1979.
The country has since undergone fundamental social change, becoming more secular — electing a gay prime minister and voting to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion.
The church has also been tarnished by clerical abuse scandals and victims and their supporters will hold a “Stand for Truth” demonstration in Dublin during the Sunday mass.
The Vatican confirmed Francis will meet with victims but provided no details. It also said he was unlikely to announce specific measures to combat sexual abuse within the church following a devastating recent US report that accused more than 300 priests in the state of Pennsylvania of abusing more than 1,000 children since the 1950s.
In Tuam, a town in western Ireland, a silent vigil was planned in solidarity with victims of “mother and baby” homes — institutions accused of being punishment hostels for unwed pregnant women.
He will meet with President Michael D Higgins and Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar.
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