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Numbers low on holy mountain despite ideal conditions

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Perfect climbing conditions greeted these early morning climbers on Croagh Patrick on Sunday morning. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Áine Ryan

IDEAL weather conditions and smaller numbers, reportedly some 5,000, contributed to fewer, and more minor, accidents for the mountain rescue operation coordinated by Mayo Mountain Rescue Team (MMRT), from its base at the back of the Croagh Patrick. A spokesman confirmed there were 17 casualties with the first at 9.50am involving a 54-year-old man who sustained an ankle injury and the last, at 6.30pm, a 20-year-old woman who needed to be assisted during her descent of the cone, the location of the majority of the incidents. One 46-year-old Co Mayo man was evacuated with chest pains by an Air Corps helicopter to University Hospital Galway for further treatment.   
There has been some speculation that the treacherous conditions of the pathway, particularly near the top, has led to the significant decrease in pilgrims this year. A stakeholders group, involving the Murrisk Development Association, and commonage owners, as well as church representatives and Mayo County Council officials, led by Martin Keating, have been working with Scottish consultant, Chris York, about ways to repair and conserve the pathway to ensure its future sustainability and safety.   
“It’s important the welfare of the mountain is maintained for future generations. The group is also looking at policing the amount of people climbing the mountain. Tacit permission is given by local landowners to climb it,” local Chris Grady, a member of the stakeholders group.

‘Slow, sIlent decline of faith’
AS the ‘slow, silent decline of faith’ marches on, a pilgrimage, like Reek Sunday, provides ‘an opportunity to take stock but also a time to discover new heart’. The ascent of the ‘rugged, jagged edges of the slopes of Croagh Patrick challenges and questions us’. So said Archbishop Michael Neary in his annual Reek Sunday homily over the weekend during which he likened the difficult and precipitous pilgrimage up its precipitous pathway to the experience of paring one’s experience and life right back to the basics.   
“Croagh Patrick, long seen as one of the acid tests of continuing practice throughout the country, was always far more than that.  It was never simply a communal celebration of the status quo. Its uncompromising and inhospitable terrain,  cut through all groupthink and sentimentality and roughly summoned the individual believer back to the absolute rock bottom, the ‘ground zero’ of his or her experience.  Back to the desert, so to speak,  where any believer in Jesus Christ can share prophecy with Moses, and God is encountered face to face. 
Observing that we are ‘familiar with the way in which we have questioned our faith’, he said that ‘we also need to be questioned by our faith’. 
“We need that encounter as never before, as individuals and as a Church. As in the Roman Empire, the Church, again small, peripheral, suspect and despised, faces a brilliant, glittering and self-assured civilisation,”
However, he continued,  ‘for the umpteenth time in the repeated ebb and flow of its long history, to penance and prayer’, it is time to ‘begin yet again that historical process of Christian discernment which has at its heart the attitude of listening ‘to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’.  
And, during this process of appraisal and renewal, Archbishop Neary said: “Just as once we were consulted and heard in the most powerful circles, now we must get used to preaching on street corners and making the Gospel heard over the incessant hubbub of the public square.” 
Dr Neary said the mission of the church was ‘to subvert the closed shop that is the modern, western world view and to startle that careful, calculating world with the un-accounting largesse, the generosity, the hospitality of God’.
He concluded by saying that: “The call of Croagh Patrick is not to unthinking and endless renunciation.  It is simply a call to powerful things beyond the frail and undependable present. It is a call to holiness: to meaning, belonging and home.”

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