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Blessings on the road to sainthood

Pope John Paul II departs from Shannon in 1979. Photograph by Padraig O’ReillyPOPE John Paul II will be beatified this Sunday and it’s a major step along the road towards a possible sainthood.
Should he eventually receive the Church’s greatest honour he would be the only saint in modern times to have set foot in Clare, having flown out of Shannon after his visit in 1979.
The local parish community will gather for the 10am mass in SS John and Paul Church to celebrate the newly Blessed John Paul. At 6pm that evening they will gather in the Jubilee garden of the Church for rosary and benediction.
While at Shannon in 1979, the Pope blessed the foundation stone for Saints John and Paul Church. He also gave every Irish bishop a sapling tree for their diocese to mark his visit. The late Bishop Michael Harty subsequently gave his sapling to the parish of Shannon and the tree now blossoms in the grounds of Ss John and Paul church.
In 2005 to celebrate the silver jubilee of the church, the pastoral council created a Pope John Paul jubilee garden in the grounds of the Church. Today this garden is used by local Polish residents as a place of prayer for their iconic countryman.
The Clare Champion of September 28, 1979, showed the type of excitement that was in the county prior to the visit.
“His (the Pope’s) departure from Shannon to Boston at 1.30pm on Monday afternoon will be the biggest and most important event at the airport since the visit and departure of the late President John F Kennedy in 1963.”
According to the ’Champion the Ennis Chamber of Commerce and the Ennis Traders association recommended early closing to facilitate staff. Pubs were asked to keep their premises closed until after 3pm on the day of the Pope’s departure.
The following week’s paper showed the pope with his arms outstretched before leaving Ireland with the accompanying headline ‘A Shannon Farewell’.
A report stated that “Ireland and the Irish people will forever recall a truly momentous weekend. In the next century grandchildren will be told of the electrifying experience of meeting and listening to Pope John Paul, the Prince of Peace.”
It stated that 566 Gardai were in the airport from 6am on the date of the Pope’s departure.
In addition to the heavy Garda presence many local members of the FCA helped provide security, including John Quinlivan.
“I was just after being commissioned and it would have been my first official function as an officer really. There were about 60 of us involved altogether.”
Their job was to man a security barrier outside the terminal building.
“There was a very big crowd in Shannon. We would have been there from the early morning, putting things in place. There was fierce excitement, the Pope flew in by chopper from Limerick and there were locals up on the hills near the airport to see it.”
While he didn’t get to meet the Pope that day, John did meet him years later, when his brother was made a deacon in Rome.
Long time Shannon resident, Pádraig O’Reilly was there that day, working as a freelance photographer, for the ’Champion.
“I had been working with Shannon Development until the previous Friday and that Monday my first job in my own business was to take colour pictures of the Pope’s visit.”
While he was supposed to get a picture of the Pope shaking hands with President Hillery, heavy security made that difficult but he did produce an iconic shot.
“When the Pope reached the end of the steps up to the plane he turned back to wave and it turned out to be a perfect picture.”
The ’Champion report following the Pope’s departure showed the type of hype attached to the visit.
“Ireland and the Irish people will forever recall a truly momentous weekend. In the next century grandchildren will be told of the electrifying experience of meeting and listening to Pope John Paul, the prince of peace.”

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