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Sun eventually shines on pilgrims

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FAMILY AFFAIR The Lallys, from left, Ailish, Dáibhí, Michael Joe, Feargal and Saoirse from Muings, Belmullet during the Reek Sunday Pilgrimage.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Social media exacerbating the problem of anxiety in society says Archbishop in homily

Áine Ryan

MAYO became Mecca, meteorologically speaking, just before noon on Sunday as the weather gods, both pagan and Christian, lifted the pillow of cloud off the pyramidal peak of Croagh Patrick for the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage.   
Among the colourful caravan of pilgrims, Alan Laffey from Co Galway, had already made his descent before the big blast of sunshine, but he was still sweating and happy. He was looking for a ‘Croagh Patrick candle’ at one of the bazaar of stalls at the foot of the 764-metre-high mountain, whose cross-millennial narrative reaches back to the pre-historic harvest festival of Lughnasa.
The annual pilgrimage, which Laffey has undertaken since 2003, provides him ‘with a certain comfort because of a line of tragedy’ in his family.
“I suppose there is a draw to it but it is more spiritual for me, than formal religion. My mother committed suicide at 28 in 1977 and then my two first cousins, brothers in their late 40s, killed themselves within a year of each other.
“There was no counselling back in the 1970s for my Dad and all he wanted was for people to call to the house but they felt awkward and didn’t know what to say,” Alan Laffey said.
He said his father, who is 80 now, never talked about it back then because he felt he had to ‘just get on with rearing his young children’.
For father of five young children, Patrick McDonagh, from Newbridge, Co Kildare, the tradition of climbing the holy mountain on Reek Sunday reaches right back across the generations to his grandparents. He travelled to Mayo on Saturday evening with the family and their dog, and slept in their van for the night before making the ascent in the early hours. “It’s about honouring St Patrick and giving something back. Young people need to be getting back into religion,” McDonagh said, before gifting a miraculous medal to this reporter ‘for luck’.

Homily
IN his Reek Sunday homily, the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary observed that the challenges of such ‘rudely physical and penitential pilgrimages’ may seem ‘meaningless to unbelievers’ but, instead, pose fundamental questions.   
“People don’t stop wanting God because they stop believing in Him.  And that enduring hunger marks the modern western world.  It questions, suspects, argues, is dismayed, disappointed, disbelieving and yet keeps searching,” said Archbishop Neary.
He remarked on how deeply anxiety was pervading every dimension of our lives and how the intrusion of social media exacerbated this widespread issue.
On the other hand, Ian Shannon, from Dungannon, believes that society must be freed of institutional religion.
“I have freed myself from religion because ministers and priest have ruined this world. You must accept that the Lord Jesus Christ is your personal saviour and then you will have a direct line to God,” he said, confirming he believed he had ‘saved the souls’ of ten people that day.
He was among a broad gallery of evangelists who lined the pathway offering alternative ways to find ‘the true god’.
On a more secular level, Safe Home Ireland, the emigrant support group based in St Brendan’s Village, Mulranny, had a stand to highlight support for those wishing to return to their native country. Its Chief Executive, Karen McHugh said ‘so many people come back home unprepared and in crisis’. She, and her colleague, Noreen Mulryne urged people to contact them for advice on housing assistance and for general advocacy support.  
Meanwhile, on their descent Eoin (16) and Daragh (14) Fox, of Bofield, Bonniconlon, confirmed they had said a few prayers with their Dad, John, at the summit but they were also interested in breaking their climbing record of this precipitous pathway.
“I’ve done it about seven times and we say some prayers at the top for family, but not too many. My brother and I climbed it in about 55 minutes, Dad was a bit slower,” Eoin said.

Mountain rescues
WHILE the good weather meant that numbers were up on last year’s pilgrimage, according to locals, the good conditions meant there were fewer incidents for the teams of mountain rescue volunteers who implement a massive operation  for the event. A spokesman for Mayo Mountain Rescue confirmed there had been one serious incident which involved the evacuation of a male by Air Corps helicopter to Mayo University Hospital while the rescue teams also dealt with another 14 incidents involving minor injuries or simply fatigue. The Order of Malta, Civil Defence and Ambulance Corps were also involved in support operations.   
Plans to develop a dedicated pathway, which traverses commonage lands owned by local farmers, made from indigenous stone, have been submitted to Mayo County Council. Some 120,000 people climb the holy mountain annually with an estimated 20,000 climbing over the entire Reek Sunday weekend.