Pope Francis grants indulgences for Dublin participants

Pope Francis Image copyright EPA
Image caption Pope Francis will be the first pontiff to visit Ireland since 1979

Participants attending the World Meeting of Families in August can be forgiven their sins or help a relative speed through purgatory.

Pope Francis has granted a "plenary indulgence" for those taking part.

In Catholic doctrine an indulgence frees you from being punished for your previously committed sins or it can be passed on to dead relatives to shorten their time in purgatory.

Even those following events on TV and radio can achieve a partial indulgence as long as they recite the Our Father, the Creed and other devout prayers.

Martin Luther's opposition to the sale of indulgences was one of the main causes of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century.

The Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican body dealing with forgiveness of sins, said pilgrims would have to attend confession and Mass, pray for the Pope's intentions and participate in some function during the five-day event.

Very few 'take seriously'

The use of indulgences in Catholicism is a tradition that goes back to the Crusades in the 11th Century.

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Image caption Millions of people came to see Pope John Paul II when he visited Ireland in 1979

Michael Kelly, Editor of the Irish Catholic says that very few Catholics today would take indulgences seriously.

"It's something that was over emphasised in the past and is now under emphasised. Most people would file it in the same theological drawer as things like exorcism.

"Popes tend to grant indulgences as a way of publicising an event - saying to the faithful that this an important gathering to come along to."

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Image caption World Youth Day is a series of events celebrating the Catholic faith

He admits that a small number of the very pious would take it to heart and do their best to collect indulgences. And while the theology is clear it has little impact on the lives of most parishioners.

"Most people don't realise that even though they confess their sins and receive forgiveness, it does not absolve the temporal punishment for those sins!" he said.

And if you can't make it to the World Meeting of Families don't worry there are other ways to collect an indulgence. All require the faithful to have had Confession, Communion and to have prayed for the intentions of the Pope.

Ways to gain a plenary indulgence

  • Climb Croagh Patrick: Valid once in June, July and August if you climb Ireland's holy mountain and pray in the chapel at the top
  • Lough Derg pilgrimage: Pope Pius IX granted a perpetual indulgence in 1870 for pilgrims completing the fasting and vigil
  • November and the dead: Various indulgences available for those who pray for the dead on set dates in November
  • Special Papal Events: In recent years this has included World Youth Day and the 2012-13 Year of Faith
  • First Communion: Both those receiving and those assisting can collect an indulgence
  • Listening to the Pope's Urbi et Orbi address at Easter or Christmas

Robert Mickens, editor at La Croix International says indulgences are often issued for papal visits to countries; holy years and jubilees.

"They can also be granted for visits to certain churches, shrines, basilicas and cathedrals and are granted, with the pope's approval, through the Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Vatican's three tribunals."

But like anything that sounds too good to be true, remember to read the small print. You may have ticked all the boxes above, prayed with the Pope, gone to confession etc but there is one more step.

According to the Enchiridion (handbook) of Indulgences none of the other steps matter unless you are "free from all attachment to sin" - a tall order even for saints.

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