A Patron In Time of Need – Message for St Patrick’s Day from Dr Philip Boyce, Bishop of Raphoe

15 Mar 2001

A Patron in Time of Need: Message for St Patrick’s Day from Bishop of Raphoe

17 March 2001

A Patron in Time of Need

The celebrations traditionally associated with St Patrick’s Day will be significantly muted this year. The onward confident march of society here and in Britain has suffered an unexpected setback. An outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in sheep and cattle, both in Britain and Northern Ireland, has dealt a severe blow to our farming community.  Suddenly we realised how little power we have in preventing the spread of a virus, how we need the honest and generous co-operation of the entire community, and how dependent we are on God’s protection.

In fact, in times of national crisis such as this, more people turn spontaneously to Heaven for help. A Government minister has said that it was “a blessing” that the Republic has escaped an outbreak so far. In a leading article in The Irish Times some days ago, it was stated that if we do escape, it will not be due so much to the human efforts that have been expended, but to “Providence”. Department and veterinary officials have asked Church authorities to have prayers offered in all churches that our people and especially our farmers may be spared.  Those prayers have been said and are still being offered in churches and by individuals. We have firm trust in the power of these prayers, at the start of Lent, in
this time of need.

We shall still celebrate with joy and gratitude the Feast of our National Patron. To him we turn, trusting in the power of his intercession at this critical period. The young Patrick himself, a slave in our land in his teenage years, worked with these animals that still account for a third of the economy of our land, but that are threatened by a dreaded disease. He too was in a fearful situation: separated from his family and homeland; working in poverty and slavery, deprived of friends and comfort. He turned to God in prayer for help:

“When I had come to Ireland I was tending herds every day and I used to pray many times during the day. More and more the love of God and reverence for him came to me. My faith increased…so that in the course of a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night. This I did even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountain”
(Confessions, 16).

The power of prayer

Thanks to his persevering prayer and trust in God, St Patrick overcame all difficulties. He managed to escape, he was given enough food to keep him alive, he discovered God’s will for him and got the strength to do it always. At the time of that difficult situation in his life when he was a shepherd of sheep, he learned to pray and trust in God. From that time forth his life was based on prayer.

During his flight from captivity, when passing through a deserted place, he and his companions ran out of supplies. “Turn sincerely with your whole heart to the Lord my God” Patrick told them, “because nothing is impossible to Him, that this day He may send you food on your way until you are satisfied; for He has plenty everywhere” (Confessions, 19).  And so it
happened, miraculously.

To our ancestors who received  the true faith from him, St. Patrick instilled this deep trust in prayer and providence. It is evident in the phrase that is in constant daily use in our native language: “Le cuidiú Dé” – “With God’s help”.

It is to God’s help we turn at this moment of threatening national disaster. It is Lent – a time of prayer, fasting and conversion of life. These things I ask of you all at this period when we feel more than ever our need of God’s protecting hand. In particular, they will honour God and win blessings for our farmers, on whose work we depend for our daily food.

While advocating prayer I do not minimize in any way the need for human efforts and precautions against the spread of this disease in animals. I urge everyone to co-operate and to observe the regulations put in place by the Department of Agriculture. I myself have cancelled a trip to Glasgow where I was invited to celebrate Mass in Irish on 17 March for the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge).

Our human efforts united with fervent prayer and deep trust in God’s Providence will obtain the graces and protection we implore. For us, St Patrick is truly a Patron in need this year. May his prayers obtain from God peace in our homes, protection for our farmers and a living faith for us all in God’s providence.


Issued by the Catholic Communications Office on behalf of Dr Philip Boyce, Bishop Of Raphoe.

Further information:
Fr Martin Clarke 087 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797