Reek pilgrimage gives new perspective on ‘revitalised church’
FOR centuries, like a giant centurion guard, holy mountain, Croagh Patrick has been the keeper of our profound religious beliefs and each year, on the last Sunday of July, Reek Sunday, hordes of pilgrims make the arduous trek to its pyramidal peak as a symbol of their faith. At 12,000, numbers may have been marginally down this year but the rich spiritual symbolism of the mountain pervades as, thousands of visitors and pilgrims continue to climb the mountain, situated overlooking spectacular Clew Bay at Murrisk, over the summer months.
Preaching from the peak on Sunday morning, Archbishop Michael Neary observed: “We get a different perspective on life and land from the top of a mountain. On this mountain of Saint Patrick in the year of the Eucharistic Congress in Ireland perhaps we might see the beauty in the rich inheritance of our faith despite the shadow of recent darker days.”
He spoke about ‘a revitalised church stretching her arms out to all who want to come home’.
“Our ancestors were not gullible people who risked their lives as they made their way to some hidden glen to gather around the Mass rock. They felt deeply the need to celebrate the Eucharist. Their strength lay in their closeness to God and to each other. They learned their prayers around the fire and turned to God in those same words in days of joy and nights of pain, sorrow and loneliness. Words learned in small holdings here in the west of Ireland found voice in the city churches of England, America and Australia,” Dr Neary said.
HE referred to the fact that the Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 1932 had helped to bring unity, forgiveness and peace to a nation emerging from the Civil War.
“We pray that the legacy of this year’s Congress, eighty years later, might be the gift of peace, forgiveness and understanding to this Church and this land of ours,” he said.
The archbishop said there was ‘so much good here that has been swallowed up in criticism’.
He argued that: “There is still a vibrant faith expressed in the many people who trek to daily Mass, those who go out to care for the poor and all those who direct their energies to deprived children and the forgotten elderly. The Eucharistic Congress made us aware of the good that is being done by generous people. Many tributes have been paid to the courtesy and kindness of the volunteers. This generosity is replicated in every parish and community throughout the land.”
He cited last winter’s terrible fishing tragedy in Union Hall, County Cork as clear evidence of the continued communal spirit that exists in Ireland. He also noted that despite straitened circumstances people continued to contribute to Trócaire, helping the starving millions exiting in the desert famine lands of Africa.
Archbishop Neary was accompanied on the pilgrimage by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, as well as the diocese’s recently-ordained priests, Fathers Shane O’Sullivan and Eugene O’Bolye.
Westport’s administrator, Father Charlie McDonnell told The Irish Times that the Manhattan-born nuncio was so impressed by his five-hour stint on the mountain – during which time he celebrated Mass and heard confessions – that he plans to repeat the pilgrimage.
“He certainly was enthralled by the whole thing and hopes to make the pilgrimage again. He stayed most of the morning hearing confessions,” Father McDonnell said.
Meanwhile, Mayo News columnist, Father Kevin Hegarty observed that: “Climbing a mountain such as Croagh Patrick – just like walking the Camino de Santiago – is part of a journey that helps people search for meaning. These outdoor events touch the core of our Celtic souls through the wonder offered by natural land and seascapes. Like in the Seamus Heaney poem, sometimes the world of nature can ‘catch the heart off guard and blow it open’.”
He cited the upcoming Maméan pilgrimage in the Maamturk mountains of Connemara, which was recently revived by Jesuit priest and sociologist, Father Micheál Mac Gréil, as another example of the increased interest by the laity in such outdoor religious gatherings.
Kevin Hegarty is a member of the Association of Catholic Priests, and an outspoken critic of conservative influences in the church. While welcoming the fact that the new Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, made the pilgrimage, he said: “I hope Archbishop Brown’s experience on Croagh Patrick puts him in touch with the true independent spirit of the church in the west of Ireland.
THREE casualties of the Reek Sunday pilgrimage were airlifted from the mountain by the Air Corps. One teenage boy suffered a serious fall near the summit and was transferred immediately to Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar. His injuries were described as ‘quite severe’ but were not life-threatening.
Eamonn Berry, the Order of Malta Officer-in-Charge said: “He was very lucky, he suffered a bad fall. We normally wouldn’t do a flight to hospital but would take any patient to our own assessment unit. But the decision was made by the advanced paramedic on board to go directly to Castlebar.”
Around 11am, an 83-year-old woman was also airlifted from the mountain and brought to the Order of Malta field hospital which was operating at the base of the mountain.
Then, in the early afternoon an Italian man was airlifted from halfway up the mountain and brought to the Order of Malta field hospital. More than 20 other pilgrims with minor injuries were walked off the mountain by Order of Malta volunteers.