Homily of Dr. Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, for Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage 2005.

31 Jul 2005

Press Release

Embargoed until 12noon on Sunday 31st July 2005

Homily of Dr. Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam

for Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage 2005

– 2005: Centenary of dedication of St Patrick’s Oratory on the summit
– “The journey to the top of the mountain is like the journey of faith” – Archbishop Neary

To look up to heaven is an instinct in every human soul.  To climb mountains
is the ambition of everyone who seeks a place of reflection and rest……….a
place where the problems of life can be put into their proper prospective.
The early Celtic saints went up the mountains in the track of Christ who
had a biblical reputation for seeing the mountain top as a place of prayer
in close union with his Father.  A travel writer some fifty years ago
said that Croagh Patrick had the lofty appearance of a holy mountain,
a place that carried praying people to their God on the mist wrapped
summit which was full of mystery.

At the turn of the last century poverty still punctuated the country and
many saw no future in the rain lashed ungenerous land.  So the emigrant
ships carried away an uncertain people to the promised land of America,
Australia or England.  Yet, it was in those years that men and boys of
these surrounding parishes carried stones, timber and cement to build
an oratory on this mountain top on the site of an old summit shrine
which was opened and blessed by Archbishop Healy, a hundred years ago.
Since that day hundreds of thousands of people have carried their pain,
their hopes, their loneliness, their doubts and their faith to a listening
and caring God.  There were many too who looked down on Clew Bay with
its many islands and lifted their eyes to the great Atlantic and followed
their emigrant children with a blessing and a prayer.

The journey to the top of the mountain is like the journey of faith.
The pilgrim begins the trek with energy and enthusiasm – the path to
the statue is relatively easy, much like our faith as we remember it
in our early years.  There were few great doubts or set backs in those
days.  God was close and we were sure of our step.  As the slope rises
it becomes a greater challenge.  We struggle with the rock and scree
and fatigue.  There is always the temptation to turn back with ready
made excuses and leave the climb and the struggle to others.  Faith
too, knows the unsure step as life challenges with many self-doubts
and sense of direction.  In our faith journey too we need the
companionship and encouragement of others.  When we finally catch
sight of the oratory on the mountain top we are glad we made the
uphill journey.  I suppose too that as our life’s journey reaches
its final stage we will feel that the daily struggle with its
endless perseverance has all been worthwhile.

Croagh Patrick looks its best in winter when it stands stark against
a frosty clear sky and you see the oratory on a pyramid of snow.  At
other times the mountain is shrouded in mist and the oratory is hidden.
With the rain and mist of the West of Ireland the oratory can remain
hidden for days on end.

In these days of darkness in the life of the Irish Church we may be
tempted to think that the Church has largely disappeared from daily
life.  We are faced with the set backs of clerical weakness and sin,
with falling vocation to the priesthood and religious life, and the
seeming weakness of faith in an Ireland of growing prosperity. But
behind the mist and confusion there is still a vibrant Church calling
men and women to seek God with the strength and companionship of others.

This mountain has been made holy by the prayers and sacrifices of
our ancestors who journeyed to the top in all weathers and held faith
in God when hunger, poverty and pain were their constant companions.
God must have seemed to be a distant being who ignored their prayers
for better times and brighter prospects but as scripture puts it,
“they lifted their eyes to the mountain from whence came their help”.
That is the challenge they would put to us today.

Today we honour those who built this oratory under the severe conditions
which the mountain imposes.  It was no Cathedral but a small chapel
built in the tradition of early monastic places of worship.  In it
Eucharist was celebrated and shared and people set off down the mountain
with new hope and resolve to face whatever life might throw up in the
year between then and the next climb.  The building may not rank highly
in the eyes of those who keep a careful eye on the heritage of Church
buildings throughout the country, but it represents the deep heritage
of a faith-filled people who struggle to keep faith and gave it undimmed
to following generations.  We still have to be reminded of the great
legacy they left.  The words of the prophet Isaiah, who was familiar
with the mountains of the biblical landscape wrote, “In the last days
the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of
the mountains and it shall be exhalted above the hills; and all the
nations shall flow to it and many people shall go and say; come let us
go to the mountain of the Lord, to the houses of the God of Jacob
and he will teach us his ways and we shall walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:2).

Our prayer today is that we will remain open to the way of the Lord
and walk in his paths always.
+Michael Neary
Archbishop of Tuam

Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)

* On Sunday 31st July (Reek Sunday) Archbishop Neary will start to
climb Croagh Patrick from Murrisk village in Co Mayo.  Archbishop
Neary will celebrate Mass at 10:30 am in the Oratory in the summit.
* Archbishop Neary will unveil a plaque on the summit after 10.30am
to mark the centenary of St. Patrick’s Oratory which is celebrated
in 2005.
* This pilgrimage combines faith with having fun.  It is associated
with St Patrick who, in 441, spent 40 days and nights fasting on the
summit, following the example of Christ and Moses.  The name
‘Reek Sunday’ comes from Patrick’s ability to Christianise many
pagan customs including the festival of Lughnasa, which previously
had heralded the start of the harvest festival honouring the ancient
pagan god Lugh, whose name is encompassed in the Irish word for
August: Lughnasa.  This festival’s tradition became absorbed into
the new Christian beliefs and locally become known as Domhnach na
Cruaiche (Reek Sunday).
* Pilgrimage has been carried out uninterrupted for over 1500 years.
Croagh Patrick has over 100,000 visitors annually with up 30,000
people expected this weekend.