Pope's Ireland visit: Pontiff's English class in Ireland

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Cardinal Jorge Mario BergoglioImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was Archbishop of Buenos Aires before his election as Pope in 2013

The Pope will arrive in Dublin this weekend for his first visit as pontiff - but it is not his first time on Irish shores.

The year was 1980 and Fr Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as he was then known, arrived in Dublin. He was 43.

Fr Bergoglio had spent seven years as the provincial superior, or head, of the Jesuit order in Argentina, at a time when the country was under military dictatorship.

He came to Ireland for some much-needed respite and to improve his language skills - spending 23 days learning English.

Image caption,
Fr Michael O'Sullivan remembers Fr Bergoglio as a shy man

Charles Haughey was Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) and the country was in the depths of recession, but the leafy suburbs of Ranelagh in south Dublin were far removed from Buenos Aires, where military death squads silenced dissent.

Fr Michael O'Sullivan, a Jesuit who spent time in Chile, remembers Fr Bergoglio as a shy man with limited language skills.

"I noticed him sitting on his own at a table," he said. "We couldn't have a great conversation with his English and my Spanish at the time.

"If I had known he was going to become Pope, I would have made more of an effort!"

Image caption,
The Jesuit Centre in Dublin where Pope Francis studied English for three weeks in 1980

Records kept by the Jesuit Institute show Fr Bergoglio paid £104 for his stay. "That was a very good rate," said Fr O'Sullivan.

Fr James Kelly also met the Pope, when Fr Bergoglio was his rector in the Colegio Máximo in Buenos Aires.

Although Fr Kelly got to know him after his visit to Dublin, the Argentine priest who would one day lead the Church did not take the opportunity to practice his newfound language skills.

Image caption,
The ledger shows the Argentine visitor was paid £104 for his stay in Dublin

"It was all in Spanish, there was no English," he said.

"I never met anyone with the leadership qualities that he had. I would describe him as a driver, pushing people on.

"He was very active. There was a little farm and he worked in with the pigs."

Image caption,
The Dublin dining room where Fr Bergoglio had his meals

Pat Coyle is director of communications with the Jesuits in Ireland.

"I know his English isn't great and I think he struggles from that," she said. "I think there'll be good translations while he's here."

She said the Jesuit community in Ireland is delighted a Jesuit Pope is coming to visit.

"He is one of their own," Ms Coyle said.

"Mind you, they don't like to put people on pedestals and they don't like to be put on pedestals themselves."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was Archbishop of Buenos Aires before his election as Pope in 2013

Papal visit to Ireland: Itinerary highlights

Saturday 25 August

  • 08:15 - Departure by plane from Rome for Dublin
  • 10:30 - Arrival at Dublin Airport for official welcome
  • 10:45 - Transfer to Áras an Uachtaráin (Irish president's residence)
  • 11:15 - Welcome ceremony with President Michael D. Higgins
  • 12:10 - Arrival at Dublin Castle for meeting with authorities, civil society and diplomatic corps
  • 15:30 - Visit to St Mary's Pro-Cathedral
  • 16:30 - Private visit to the Capuchin Day Centre, a centre for homeless people
  • 19:45 - Preside at the Festival of Families at Croke Park stadium

Sunday, 26 August

  • 08:40 - Departure by plane for Knock
  • 09:45 - Arrival at Knock Shrine for visit to the Apparition Chapel and recitation of the Angelus
  • 11:15 - Departure by plane for Dublin
  • 12:30 - Lunch with the Papal Delegation
  • 15:00 - Closing Papal Mass of the World Meeting of Families in Phoenix Park followed by a meeting with the Irish bishops
  • 18:30 - Farewell ceremony at Dublin Airport
  • 18:45 - Departure by plane for Rome
  • 23:00 - Arrival in Rome