Message for St Patrick’s Day 2011 from Bishop Séamus Hegarty

16 Mar 2011


16 March 2011

Message for St. Patrick’s Day 2011 from Bishop Séamus Hegarty,


Chair of the Bishops’ Council for Emigrants

On this day I wish to commend the work of our emigrant chaplaincies and all who provide support to Irish emigrants.  Inspired by the teaching of the Gospel, they provide essential pastoral outreach to many Irish people as they try to establish a foothold in a new society.  – Bishop Hegarty

St Patrick’s Day, Lá le Pádraig, is a special day for the Irish at home and abroad. On this the Feast of our National Apostle, I send warm greetings to all Irish people wherever they are and to all who join in this celebration, including the many immigrants to our own shores. Saint Patrick first encountered Ireland as a migrant. Thus, it is fitting that on his Feast Day, and at a time when we face challenges in Ireland and beyond, we again seek to highlight the needs of the many Irish emigrants spread throughout the world.

Today, we pray especially for all who travel in search of hope and blessing. We think particularly of our own people who have found new lives in far flung shores. May they, like so many people in Scripture, and in the previous generations before them, discover the rich mystery of God’s salvific purpose and know the peace and support that Saint Patrick found for his life. We also thank God for the blessings that are bestowed on our land by the presence of so many people from the many countries, backgrounds and traditions that we are privileged to witness in everyday life.

For every emigrant abroad there are parents, siblings, friends and their local communities, who miss them greatly. The haemorrhage of so many of our young people and many others who have emigrated in their thousands to Australia, Canada, Britain and many to the United States, is an immeasurable deficit in family, community and national resources. It is to be hoped that the newly elected Coalition Government will do all that it can, as soon as possible, to create and renew the economy and thereby generate employment in the hope of repatriating some of our people who reluctantly had to emigrate.

There are a multitude of factors that can push people away from the bosom of their families, communities and parishes as they seek hope and fresh opportunities abroad. The majority of migrants are fortunate enough to find profitable work and supportive social structures that provide assistance on their path towards integration and contentment. However, in our changing world it is becoming increasingly more difficult for people to find the same foothold, as noted in the document Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi. The document states that globalisation has ‘flung markets wide open but not frontiers, has demolished boundaries for the free circulation of information and capital, but not to the same extent for the free circulation of people’.[1]

We know that many of today’s emigrants are, in some ways, better equipped then those of previous generations. However, it would be incorrect to think that these advances could in some way address the needs of the whole person. A person’s faith can take on a special significance when living far from home. It provides a wonderful opportunity for migrants to come together with others to worship, it creates a strong bond and a supportive network to soften, to some extent, the isolation of emigration. While their circumstances and locations may change, God’s love is a constant for them to hold on to.

For those contemplating the difficult prospect of emigrating or for those looking to spend time travelling overseas – even for a short period – it is essential to be prepared, to go with the necessary information and realistic ideas about how to make ends meet. Thankfully, pre-departure information is much more readily available today than in years past.

I am keenly aware of the great work undertaken by Irish emigrant chaplaincies in Britain, the United States and Australia. Inspired by the teaching of the Gospel, they provide essential pastoral outreach to many Irish people as they try to establish a foothold in a new society. On this day I wish to commend the work of our emigrant chaplaincies and all who provide support to Irish emigrants.

The hospitality of the Gospel is directed at those who are vulnerable and are in need. Therefore, we must never lose sight of, or forget, those emigrants whose journey has been a difficult one. For a multitude of reasons, some Irish emigrants today can still find themselves isolated, vulnerable and alone. Mindful of their generosity to their homeland in years past, it is right that we, as a State, a Church and a people, look to support them and to travel with them, whenever possible, on all stages of their emigrant journey.

We must continue to support the elderly members of the Irish emigrant community, in Britain and elsewhere. Earlier this year we learned that some Irish people were still being buried in communal graves in London, without loved ones to comfort them at the time of their passing or to care for their remains. I gratefully acknowledge the work of the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain in highlighting this issue and their ongoing work, and the work of other organisations, in reaching out to the elderly Irish community.

At this time of increasing outward migration, the work of the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas takes on added significance. They provide a vital service and ongoing support, which helps to ease the burden facing prisoners and their families alike.

I encourage the new Government to work with its counterparts in the United States to find a way to manage new migration flows between the two countries. In saying that, we must never overlook the difficult situation currently being experienced by some 50,000 undocumented Irish people currently living there. This matter will not go away and a responsible and considered solution must be found. Having met with many Irish emigrants in the U.S. over the years, I constantly recall the heartbreak, the loneliness and the yearning which they have for home. It is only by meeting with them that one can appreciate their plight.

I strongly encourage the new Government, in spite of a challenging economic climate, to maintain its financial support for the various welfare organisations, at home and abroad, which care for vulnerable and isolated members of our diaspora and provide essential services, to this State and its people. I wish the new Government every success. It is hoped that the economy will recover sufficiently to enable some emigrants who reluctantly had to emigrate, to return home.

May our vulnerable emigrants tangibly benefit from the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI to all God’s people to: ‘love to the full without making any kind of distinction and without discrimination, in the conviction that any one who needs us and whom we can help is our neighbour (cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 15). May the teaching and example of St Paul, a great and humble Apostle and a migrant, an evangelizer of peoples and cultures, spur us to understand that the exercise of charity is the culmination and synthesis of the whole of Christian life.’[2]

While many at this time may feel discouraged or disheartened, I draw comfort from the words of the late Pope John Paul II who in describing the land of Saint Patrick, said:

‘Modern Ireland was founded on a vision of a society capable of responding to the deepest aspirations of its people and ensuring respect for the dignity and rights of all its citizens. That vision is linked to a profound yearning for the effective realisation of the profound human values that have never ceased to resound in the minds and hearts of the Irish people.[3]

Guím idirghuí Naomh Pádraig ar ár lucht imirce scaite ar fud na cruinne. Ba dheoraí Naomh Pádraig é féin tráth. Tuigeann sé ar n’uaigneas agus ar m’briseadh chroí. Guím beannacht, ráth agus séan ár bPatrúin oraibh uilig.

+Séamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry

Chair of the Bishops’ Council for Emigrants

[1] Erga migrantes caritas Christi (The love of Christ towards migrants) Vatican City, 2004.

[2] Taken from the Message of his Holiness Benedict XVI for the 95th World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2009). Theme: St Paul migrant, ‘Apostle of the peoples’.

[3] Taken from the address of his Holiness John Paul II to H.E. Mr Patrick Hillery, President of the Republic of Ireland, 20 April 1989.

Further information:

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