Thousands of pilgrims from the north west will flock south this weekend for the visit of Pope Francis, which coincides, incidentally, with the feast of Derry patron, St. Eugene, which fell yesterday.
A ‘Journal’ survey of just a fraction of the dozens of Catholic parishes spread across the Derry diocese, has established significant numbers from the city and district will make the trip south to see the pontiff.
Translink has also confirmed that 5,000 people from the north - many from Derry and Donegal - will be travelling to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.
A ‘Journal’ sample of official parish bus and rail pilgrimages conducted yesterday, which did not include the numbers expected to travel to the events independently, forecast a mini-exodus of the Catholic faithful from the local area.
Two hundred people from St. Eugene’s Cathedral and the Long Tower in the Parish of Templemore, for instance, will travel by train to Dublin for the Pope’s Final Mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday.
Over 200 further pilgrims, meanwhile, will travel from the Waterside Parish to both the Papal Mass and the ‘Festival of Families’ concert that will take place in Croke Park on Saturday.
Two buses carrying 114 people from St. Columb’s Church, Chapel Road, and the Immaculate Conception, Trench Road, will be going to the Final Mass, with another 107 booked onto two more buses for the Croke Park concert.
Also in the Waterside, St. Mary’s, Ardmore, will run a single bus carrying around 50 people to the Dublin event.
Back on the cityside the Parish of the Three Patrons, which includes St. Patrick’s, St. Brigid’s and St. Joseph’s in Pennyburn, Carnhill and Galliagh respectively, will send two buses carrying 100 people to the Final Mass on Sunday.
The huge interest in Pope Francis’ historic visit is not confined to he city, of course, with uptake in Inishowen and County Derry also found to be substantial.
An incredible six buses carrying 320 people will be making their way from the Buncrana Parish of Desertegney and Lower Fahan,for Pope Francis’ Final Mass on Sunday, for example.
Carndonagh, meanwhile, has one official bus that will carry somewhere in the region of 50 people to the Phoenix Park, although it is understood many more privately-organised buses will also be travelling from North Inishowen.
In County Derry the ‘Journal’ understands that one bus carrying 40 people will be heading to the Final Mass from Dungiven with a further 10 parishioners heading to the Croke Park concert on Saturday.
The trend among some other of the north Derry parishes, however, has been for people to arrange travel independently.
At least 30 will be travelling from Claudy and a further 30 will be travelling from the Foreglen but not on official parish organised transport.
A Translink spokesperson said there has been a lot of interest in the special services it laid on to meet the extra demand for the the visit of Pope Francis.
“We are carrying well over 5,000 passengers from across Northern Ireland to Dublin on rail and bus specials for the Papal visit,” a spokesperson confirmed.
“These services, which include in the North-West area - a train and two buses from Derry and buses from Dungiven, Magherafelt and Limavady, Coleraine - are in addition to our scheduled services.”
The Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr. Dónal McKeown, said the World Meeting of Families, whose theme is ‘The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World’ was an opportunity for members of the church to reflect.
He said: “It is not a time for quick, smart answers but for thoughtful listening. It is a moment of divine grace where we can together seek the truth that alone can set us free.
“It is a precious God-given opportunity that we waste at our peril. It is an important stage in an adult conversation about what a new Ireland would look like.
“It is a key moment in discerning what a renewed Irish Church will look like as it seeks to play a positive and prophetic role in civic society.”
Bishop McKeown said he hoped Pope Francis would ask “awkward questions and speak the truth” during his 36 hours visit to Dublin and Knock.
He said he hoped the visit would inspire parishes and families to build community in the face of an “epidemic of loneliness.”