The con­fes­sions of a half-hearted teenage papal usher

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - VISIT OF JOHN PAUL II - DAMIAN CORLESS

Iwas a teenage papal punk. I made no apolo­gies for it back in 1979 and still see noth­ing odd about swap­ping my reg­u­la­tion leather jacket and green drain­pipes for a yel­low-and-white papal sash draped over my brown flared suit. Just for a day. Seven­ties suits, car­pets and cur­tains came in two colours: brown and or­angey-brown. Ire­land’s young were de­sert­ing the Vat­i­can in droves, but rather than turn­ing straight to athe­ism, they di­ver­si­fied into as many re­li­gious tribes as mu­si­cal ones. Not for me the born-again Chris­tians (too pu­ri­tan­i­cal), fake east­ern guru types (not pu­ri­tan­i­cal enough), the Rasta­far­i­ans (dread­locks? No!) or the Hare Kr­ish­nas (too veg­e­tar­ian).

Newly in vogue, à-la-carte Catholi­cism was the easy op­tion. Just pick the bits you fancy and bin the rest, guilt­free. In the words of Fa­ther Ted: “That’s the great thing about Catholi­cism — it’s so vague”.

Be­sides, there was the star fac­tor. John Paul II was the first rock star pope and there was no other show in town. Lit­er­ally. Since the Trou­bles con­vulsed this is­land a decade ear­lier, Ire­land had been a no-go area for vis­it­ing en­ter­tain­ers. Apart, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, from Eric Clap­ton, who ap­peared to have a weekly res­i­dency at the Na­tional Sta­dium.

So, with sash on suit, a flag to wave, a flask of tea and corned-beef sand­wiches, my­self, our band’s front­man Bart, and fel­low stew­ards led the faith­ful of Bal­ly­mun’s Vic­to­ries parish in pro­ces­sion to the Phoenix Park in the dank predawn.

Sub­ver­sively, Bart and I wore striped day-glo punky neck­ties to sig­nify an ironic de­tach­ment from our du­ties. In Cabra a hard­ware store open since 5am did an ex­tor­tion­ate roar­ing trade in fold-up chairs.

Armed with a site-map we mar­shalled our flock (women, chil­dren, grumpy men) into Cor­ral No 18, re­sem­bling a large sheep pen, around 8am, where they set­tled in for the long wait for the Pope’s he­li­copter. Be­sides pro­vid­ing loo di­rec­tions, we were to keep the swarms of hawk­ers from in­fil­trat­ing the Phoenix Park Mass area. That didn’t hap­pen. Coke cans, Mars Bars and ice-creams flew across the fences at un­holy prices. Cries of “See the Pope for £1!” filled the air and when JP ap­peared, a ser­ried sea of card­board periscopes went up, to have their pricey £1 view blocked by a sea of periscopes.

My smug sat­is­fac­tion at liv­ing a day of virtue was punc­tured by fel­low teens blar­ing out Bob Mar­ley and The Clash from the park’s tree-canopied mar­gins clouded in pun­gent smoke and lit­tered with spent flagons of cider. The me­dia turned a blind eye, and you won’t find any re­ports to­day of this al­ter­na­tive hap­pen­ing.

As the Mass got un­der way, slightly be­hind sched­ule, Pol­ish-born Dublin travel agent Jan Kamin­ski was a bag of nerves. He was to wel­come the Pope to Ire­land, watched by over a mil­lion mass-go­ers, with a brief greet­ing in Pol­ish. When the visit was an­nounced, news­pa­pers num­bered Ire­land’s Pol­ish com­mu­nity at “al­most 100”. With the visit con­firmed, Kamin­ski quickly founded the Ir­ish-Pol­ish So­ci­ety and the num­ber claim­ing Pol­ish roots jumped to 400.

The so­ci­ety com­mis­sioned three gifts for the pon­tiff to be pre­sented fol­low­ing the Mass. Other pre­sen­ta­tions in­cluded a ca­noe in papal colours from the Ir­ish Ca­noe Union and a cash col­lec­tion from the “cig­a­rette al­lowances” of Moun­tjoy pris­on­ers.

Wait­ing in the wings of the vast Phoenix Park stage, Kamin­ski’s mo­ment fi­nally ar­rived. On cue, he strode with pur­pose to­wards the Pope on the al­tar. Too pur­pose­fully for the twitchy se­cu­rity spooks. “As I ap­proached the Pope, they jumped on me,” he told me many years later. “They thought I was an as­sas­sin. I have press pho­tos show­ing me in their grasp, gasp­ing with shock.”

Dublin’s city cen­tre was a ghost-town, with no shops open, no pub­lic trans­port run­ning, no lit­ter col­lected from the filthy streets. Empty. The big­gest gath­er­ing spot­ted in Dublin’s city cen­tre dur­ing the Mass was a group of five peo­ple at a Grafton Street ice-cream par­lour.

For all the Church’s pow­ers of per­sua­sion, the com­ing gen­er­a­tion knew there was no go­ing back. Lapsed and laps­ing they may have been, but most were still ‘cul­tural’ Catholics and for three days they lived in the mo­ment as the Pope’s af­fir­ma­tive pres­ence swathed the land with a hys­ter­i­cal feel-good fac­tor, how­ever fleet­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.