EMBARGOED UNTIL 7.30PM ON 29 JULY 2006
HOMILY FOR CROAGH PATRICK PILGRIMAGE 2006
BY THE ARCHBISHOP OF TUAM, DR MICHAEL NEARY
“It is lamentable to read and to see the abuse hurled at the stranger because
they are different in language, culture and religion” – Archbishop Neary
I welcome all the pilgrims to Croagh Patrick on the occasion of the National Pilgrimage.
We come in a spirit of prayer and penance as we follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick.
He was an exile among us and on this occasion I extend a very warm welcome to those who
have come to make Ireland their new home. I reserve a very special welcome for the
successor of St. Patrick, Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
While other Archbishops of Armagh have come as far as the mountain this is an historic
occasion as Patrick’s successor becomes a pilgrim. Archbishop Seán you are most welcome
and we are delighted and honoured that you undertake the pilgrimage with us this year.
Every mountain presents a challenge. For centuries men and women have tried to conquer
the worlds’ greatest heights. Many have lost their lives in the airless, cold upper
slopes of the Himalayas in search of their forbidding summits. Here Croagh Patrick
presents a different challenge for, as we trudge our way up to its summit, we come face
to face with ourselves as followers of Christ in this new century. The longest and most
difficult pilgrimage is the one to our own heart. We climb for a variety of reasons. We
climb so that loved ones can climb out of sick beds. We climb to clear our heads and
remember the dead who guided our first steps. We climb because of the sins of today and
our sin of yesterday. We climb to catch a glimpse of God in strength and faith. We climb
in memory of those who walk the pilgrim path of life with us. We climb the Reek together
to be support to others and to be supported by them as our strength wanes and the limbs
Today we remember that we are pilgrims through the years of life as we journey towards
death and eternity. Men and women have climbed this path for centuries remembering the
pilgrim man Patrick. He had come from another country to discover God among foreign
people on the rain-lashed slopes of Slieve Mish in Country Antrim. Years later, as an
ordained priest, we are told he heard the voice of the Irish calling to him; “come back
holy youth and walk once more among us”. What he gave to this Island could never be
There would come a time in our history when famine and poverty condemned many of the sons
and daughters of Patrick to cross many seas in search of work, dignity and peace. This
land saw too many ships slip away from harbours carrying men and women who would search
for life in the new lands of America, Australia and Britain. In years they became known
as the Irish-Americans in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. They prospered in Australia
and laboured in Britain. The dollars and the pounds sent home were a life-line in hard
and demanding times. Our literature and song is filled with the emigrant experience. As
we look West from this mountain top we are conscious of the ruins of old homes whose lives
bled away in emigration or in the parting of the last owner in death.
More ruined houses punctuate our country side with roofs caved in on fire-places which one
night were alive to the lilting fiddle and the warmth of welcome……and we made songs about
it. The end of any pilgrimage implies a new beginning. We come on this pilgrimage not as
an end in itself but in the hope of gaining clarity for the continuation of the journey of
faith. In the silence of the heights we may hear the word of God again. Maybe we might
hear the challenge of God in the Old Testament Book of Kings “grant all the foreigner asks
so that all the people of the earth may come to know your name” (1 Kings 8:43).
For years this land was known for its welcome and hospitality. At many airport arrival bays
the words “Céad Míle Fáilte” were spelled out on a variety of banners. Has that now become
simply “Ceád Fáilte” or nothing at all? In the silence of the heights of Patrick the exile’s
mountain could we hear the final judgement words of Christ “I was a stranger and you made me
welcome or you didn’t”?
In these years of our land’s prosperity men, women and children, like the Irish of old have
had to leave their own native lands to come in search of work, peace and dignity. They too
have found it hard to leave behind the hills of Kenya, the Niger Delta, the sacred soil of
Poland and the Carpathian Mountains of Romania or even the war-torn, famine ravaged plains
of their country caught up in endless wars. They too know moments of home-sickness, just
as the Irish did in the Bronx or in the boarding houses of Camden Town.
As a Christian people we must cry out welcome again and again in parish and new community
projects. It is lamentable to read and to see the abuse hurled at the stranger because
they are different in language, culture and religion. We are a sad people if we think that
the limits of human behaviour have been reached within our own borders or that the only
songs are our songs and that the only culture is our culture. That line of thought would
have put Patrick back to Britain again and left us to our Celtic pagan ways.
“Nothing surpasses the greatness and dignity of the human person” wrote Pope John Paul II
and in a reminder to the drawing up of the EU Constitution he wrote “a society forgetful of
its past is exposed to the risk of losing the power to understand the present and worse
still, becoming a victim of its own future”. At Knock he prayed that this land would stay
true to God always. “Help them”, he prayed, “to build a just, peaceful and loving society
where the poor are never neglected and the rights of all, especially the weak, are respected”.
G K Chesterton, the English writer put it simply “when people begin to ignore human dignity,
it will not be long before they ignore human rights.”
Other exiles have come to be our neighbours, to work along side us and teach us the beauty
of their vision, their art, their view of life and their quest for God. The words of an
Indian bishop remind us:
“Only the food we share together nourishes
Only the water we drink together quenches our thirst
Only the words we find together have meaning
Only the peace we make together will be endurable”.
On this national Pilgrimage we pray: “God of the Nomad and the Pilgrim, may we find our
security in you and not in our possessions. May our homes be open to our guests and our
hearts to one another so that all our travelling is lighter as together we reach the goal.”
Notes for Editors
* Media are invited to attend the following celebrations:
Saturday 29 July at 5:00pm Westport Town Council is to hold a civic reception
in honour of the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Seán Brady,
at the Civic Offices, Altamount Street, Westport, Co Mayo. The reception will be hosted
by the Town Council’s Cathaoirleach, Councillor Teresa McGuire.
Saturday 29 July at 7:30pm Mass at St Mary’s Church, Westport. Archbishop Brady will
be the chief celebrant at the Vigil Mass and the Homily will be delivered by Archbishop
Reek Sunday 30 July at 7:00am Archbishops Brady and Neary will start the pilgrimage
climb from the car park in the village of Murrisk, which is about 8 kilometres on the
Reek Sunday 30 July at 10:30am Archbishop Neary will celebrate Mass at the summit
of Croagh Patrick.
Reek Sunday 30 July at 11:00am Archbishop Brady will celebrate Mass at the summit
of Croagh Patrick.
* 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 Christianize 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).
* This 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.
* All those who intend to climb are asked to bring good footwear, suitable clothing, a
stick and water and to be mindful of the safety of themselves and other pilgrims.
* On Sunday 30 July Mass will be celebrated on the summit every half hour from
8.00am – 2.00pm. There will be Mass in Irish at 10.00am and 11.30am.
* Confession will be available to pilgrims on the summit on Sunday 30th from
7.30am – 2.00pm
* ‘Reek Sunday’ 2005 marked the centenary of the Oratory on the summit. A special plaque
was unveiled on the summit in 2005 marking the occasion.
* Further information on Croagh Patrick and a virtual tour of the mountain can be viewed
on the website of the Archdiocese of Tuam – www.tuamarchdiocese.org
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)