HSE unnecessarily putting the fear of God into the crowds flocking to see the Pope


Worshippers beware, when you flock to see his holiness, disease awaits.” Temporary morgues have been planned for fears that a ‘small percentage of the crowd will die.’

Are we in Ancient Rome you ask? It sounds like an ominous warning call outside Circus Maximus, 48BC.

“Friends, Romans, plebs. Come to the Ludi at your own peril. TB and leprosy prevail in the ‘cavea ultima’ enclosure,’ your council, the hon J.Cesar.  “Bring out yer dead.”

Luckily Ancient Rome it aint. The caution comes from the HSE ahead of the Pope’s visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families and other events around it.

Organisers are anticipating ‘possible outbreaks of measles and other diseases people haven’t been vaccinated against’ especially when the pontiff appears in front of 500,000 people in the Phoenix Park to give mass on August 26th. The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre said that preparations for the papal visit need to be more than just a “wing and a prayer.”

Dr Mary O’Riordan, specialist in public health medicine at the HPSC, said large gatherings of this nature pose “unique health risks to attendants” and public health resources.

The age profile of attendees has been taken into account as some could possibly die of natural causes.

It sounds like the Rolling Stones gig I attended in Croke Park this year along with 70,000 others. We all made it out alive, despite the age demographic being around the same as that expected for the Pope’s visit. Once the venue was cleared and everyone went home, the only casualties of the Rolling Stones gig was a few abandoned Zimmer frames, some dentures and an original burned bra from the 1960s, we joked.

Dr O’Riordan said a 2016 review found disease outbreaks following ‘mass’ gatherings are rare, but outbreaks have occurred at Muslim, Christian and Hindu events, at sports events, and at large open air festivals in the past.

Outbreaks at a festival? What constitutes an outbreak at a festival? Does she refer to the Wag festival in the Egyptian Old Kingdom, honouring the souls of the deceased on their journey in the afterlife? What year is it? Have I missed the bubonic plague festival?

Do we reside beside open sewers, with chamber potties being flung out of windows in malodorous neighbourhoods plagued with files and dogs, spreading infectious disease?

The Haj, which takes place in Mecca at the same time as the Pope’s visit – late August and attracts 3 million Muslim pilgrims from all around the world was mentioned in articles.

It’s not exactly comparable to Phoenix Park. Part of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims have to attend at least once in their lives unless they are hindered by health issues.

They perform the tawaf, which involves circling the Kaaba (the holiest site in Islam) seven times plus they’re in Saudi Arabia, so it’s going to be furnace like. Fainting and stampedes sadly occur as hysteria and exhaustion take over.

The Pope’s visit is a little more casual, more Daniel O’Donnell, I reckon.

After all, we have shunned the church, so our enthusiasm has waned. Plus there may be empty patches of green, where post referendum, pro choicers with time on their hands reserved tickets in bulk so as to hinder little old ladies from nursing homes from attending. What a protest guys.

Despite the haters, I’ve estimated that one seventh of the population will pilgrim to Croke Park and Phoenix Park so lets not scare them with speak of too many ills.

The vaccine issue where preventable diseases such as measles, influenza, mumps and hepatitis plus gastrointestinal infections could cause problems, is always prevalent. Kids should to be up to date with vaccines as measles outbreaks in Europe alone have killed up to 30 people so far this year.

It’s important to address the vaccination issue, and the safety of attendees is paramount. But the way the information has been spread, its more 1879 than 2018. We don’t want to scare people off, but at the same time, bring a deck chair, some water and get there early. I was at a gig over the weekend, and wished I had brought a folding chair myself, aged 43.

As with any large scale event, especially one of such importance, and I won’t get into the politics of it, we don’t want to scare elderly people off. Just think of the two German elderly ‘metalhead’ residents of a nursing home in the county of Schleswig Holstein, who this past weekend, decided to escape to the biggest heavy metal festival in the world- Waken Open Air festival, which attracts more than 75,000 people.

As someone who has experienced a heavy metal event in Germany, its not to be sniffed at.

‘They obviously liked the metal festival,’ police spokeswoman Merle Neufeld stated. The two men were found at 3am ‘confused and dazed’ and were brought home against their will. Good for them. I wouldn’t have the ‘metal’ for such antics.

As much as people may protest the pontiff’s visit, lets not freak people out. Remember 1979 was the largest gathering of Irish people ever seen. More than one million people congregated in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on in September 1979, for the first papal mass on Irish soil, more than 1,500 years after St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland.

Over the course of three days, Pope John Paul II preached to almost two and a half million people in nine major addresses around the country. They lived to tell the tale.

I’m not a fan of the church, but you never know -we may get the much sought apology for the failure of the hierarchy to act appropriately during the child abuse and other various scandals that shook the faith to its very foundations.

It will restore our national identity, and attendees from across Ireland and the world will have a positive experience.

So if you see an elderly person in distress, help them out, give them directions and most importantly offer them a seat.