Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent
In 1979, in the early days of his papacy, Pope John Paul II landed at Dublin airport and kissed the ground as he disembarked from an Aer Lingus Boeing 747 named the St Patrick.
Ireland was then a bastion of Roman Catholicism in which the church’s moral authority was unquestioned, divorce was banned and homosexuality illegal.
Over three days, more than 2.5 million people came to see the Polish pontiff. More than 1 million of them packed Phoenix Park in Dublin for an outdoor mass, and hundreds of thousands lined the streets to welcome him. At a liturgy in Killineer, near Drogheda, the pope prayed for an end to the Troubles: “On my knees, I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace.”
Ireland has had to wait almost four decades for another papal visit, and in that time much has changed. When Pope Francis arrives in 2018 for a trip announced by the Irish prime minister on Monday, he will find a republic where gay marriage is legal, the Troubles are over and the Catholic church has been damaged, perhaps irreparably, by a deluge of sexual abuse and exploitation scandals.
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