Pope Francis warns 80,000 at Croke Park of social media dangers
Pontiff met and talked to families who shared their stories and posed for selfies with children
Pope Francis arrived in Croke Park to a rapturous welcome from more than 80,000 people on Saturday night and looked visibly relaxed as he travelled through the crowd in a car accompanied by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and his security detail.
Smiling broadly, he waved at well wishers, extended blessing to the faithful and gave the occasional thumbs up to delighted children in the crowd before taking a seat on the stage for the climax of the World Meeting of Families event.
On a day when the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Catholic Church repeatedly took centre stage, the pope looked relieved to be among the faithful for what was billed as one of the key moments of his 36-hour visit.
As he arrived in the stadium, Patrick Bergin sang Leonard Cohen’s Anthem and once the pontiff was seated on stage he was treated to a short performance from a Riverdance troupe, as well as singing from Daniel O’Donnell while Sr Bernadette led a band of children in a rousing Dingle Polka.
There were African dancers and the High Hopes choir made up of people who have had to deal with homelessness. They sang High Hopes as tens of thousands of people in the stands and on the pitch lit their phones and held them aloft.
Andrea Bocelli and Celine Byrne performed Ave Maria with the former returning at the end of the event to sing a rousing version of Nessun Dorma which had the crowd on their feet and frequently in tears.
Families from Ireland, India, Africa and beyond offered testimonies of their experiences coping with poverty, surviving conflict zones and dealing with many of the extreme stresses and strains of modern life including addiction and illness.
The pope met and talked to many of the families who took to the stage to share their stories and even posed for selfies with some of the children.
In his address, the softly spoken pope warned of the dangers of social media and alerted the delegates to its potential to threaten “the real web of flesh and blood relationships”.
He said while technology had merit and could bring people together if used with “moderation and prudence”, it could also be guilty of “imprisoning us in a virtual reality and isolating us from the very relationships that challenge us to grow to our full potential in communion with others”.
He suggested that when people are glued to their phones while at the family dinner table, they “sort of go into an orbit” which takes them away “from a concrete reality to a sort of fuzzy drink area without substance” and he encouraged all delegates to “be careful” in that space.
He also stressed the importance of forgiveness and warned people against going to sleep on a row, suggesting that the three words needed to make peace in a family setting were “sorry, please and thank you”.
He encouraged attendees to repeat the words and when he felt they had not done it with sufficient enthusiasm he asked for “another one” and then encouraged them to shout the three words even louder.
He repeatedly stressed the importance of family within the Catholic Church and said families everywhere were being challenged “to keep growing, to keep moving forward even amid difficulties, just as past generations did”.
He reserved special mention for grandparents. “A society that does not value grandparents is a society that has no future,” he said. “A church that is not mindful of the covenant between generations will end up lacking the thing that really matters, which is love”.
Shortly before 10pm, the pope finished his address with an upbeat good night and he encouraged those gathered to have some rest. He finished with a cheery “see you tomorrow”.