Homily of Archbishop Michael Neary for Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage 2013

27 Jul 2013

  • Far from standing in the way of human development faith inspires personal development and initiatives; it gives a sense of identity, leads to intimate friendships and integrates persons and society.
  • To deny the right of the Church, or any religious body, to participate in public debates is a hallmark of a country that seeks to deny a fundamental human right: the right of religious freedom. 

A Celebration of Gathering

This year we celebrate the Gathering.  The Gathering may be social, sporting, cultural or religious.  In the gathering we are welcoming back, enabling people to re-establish contact with their roots, appreciate their history, acknowledge where we are presently and prepare to go forward to face the future with hope in our hearts.  Our faith gatherings share all these elements.  For the past week we have celebrated the Croagh Patrick gathering, which included pilgrimages and Mass on the summit each day, historical and heritage talks each evening, as well as music and guided walks.  This morning I extend a very warm welcome to you all as we celebrate the National Pilgrimage to Ireland’s holy mountain, the legacy of the wellsprings of our Patrician faith.

Faith and Pilgrimage

Faith and pilgrimage are inter-related.  In this Year of Faith the Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage affords us an opportunity to reflect on some aspects of faith and the light it throws on our life in various areas.  The Church ought to be about gathering, about embrace, about welcoming home all sorts and conditions of people.  Home is a place of the mother tongue, of old stories told and treasured, of being at ease, known by name, belonging without qualifying for membership. The ministry of gathering is one to which God has always been committed and one which is central to the ministry of Jesus Christ and his Church.

Getting a Perspective of the Sacred from the Holy Mountain

There is a Chinese proverb that states “if you don’t scale the mountain you can’t view the plain”.  The occasion of the Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage provides us with an opportunity to get a clearer vision and adjust our relationships in two areas.

Location in venerable and ancient Spiritual Heritage

Firstly, because of its location, scenic beauty and the place which it holds both in Celtic and Irish spirituality, the pilgrimage helps us to enter into a relationship with nature, not in a controlling, consumerist manner but rather seeing nature as a gift of God, as a communication from God.  Responding appropriately to creation is part of knowing and responding to God. Creation itself is an act of divine self-giving.  The world is a gift, a means of receiving something of the life of God.  As Pope Francis says “faith enables us to discern in nature a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our care and protection”. This mountain has been made holy by the long lines of pilgrims who struggled to the summit as they endeavoured to find meaning and purpose.  Croagh Patrick as a pilgrimage centre challenges us to respect our environment. Ancestral memories and cultural inheritance is an essential part of our inner human landscape. The absence of those and an alienation from nature in the concrete jungles and artificial land-scaping, makes us uprooted and restless creatures.

Sacred Journey – Giving perspective and meaning to our Vulnerability

Secondly, as we climb Croagh Patrick we become more conscious of our limitations and of the vulnerability of others.  This enables us to recognise our relationships with others in the way in which we negotiate our own and other people’s frailties.  We become conscious of weakness and powerlessness.  This ought to influence our behaviour. It helps us to respect what is at risk in the life of another and to work on behalf of another’s need.

The Perspective of Faith

In all of this faith has a significant role to play. Far from standing in the way of human development faith inspires personal development and initiatives; it gives a sense of identity, leads to intimate friendships and integrates persons and society.  At the same time it warns against self-centredness, isolation and misuse of others. Faith must find expression in justice, be of service to the common good and be capable of throwing light on all our relationships in society. As Christians we seek to act in the market place “in the name of God”.  To believe in God is to be a “trustee” of God’s truth.

Implications of Weakened Faith

When faith is weakened, the foundations of humanity also risk being weakened.  The light of faith can never allow us to forget the sufferings of this world.  Faith does not dispel all our darkness, but rather guides our perilous steps on life’s journey. The service which faith provides to the common good is always one of hope. Religion and faith are persisting features of the human situation and will not disappear so long as we ask the fundamental questions of why we are here and what kind of world we seek to create.

Perspective on Economic Crises

The opposite of faith is idolatry. Reflecting on our recent economic woes, many claim that greed was the underlying problem. I wonder whether pride may have been an even more significant contributory factor, the pride that refuses to acknowledge my lack of control over the environment, my illusion that I can shape the world as I wish.  The freedom of the few was purchased at the expense of the enslavement of many to poverty and deprivation. Our lives ought to reflect truth.  Real change can come only through freeing ourselves from the illusions which enslave us. Therefore the importance of empathy, of developing a kind of intelligence that will reflect on who we are will help to control and limit a purely technical approach.  Faith can be a great help in developing this type of thinking.

Safeguarding the Common Good

When we take time out from the routine of busyness and our daily concerns, personal, community and national – we afford ourselves some time to stand back and think.  This different, sacred location, well worn by the footsteps of generations of pilgrims freshens our perspective on the lives we live, the issues that occupy us.  During this past year a number of issues concerning the common good in relation to peoples lives have come into sharp perspective.  Whenever the service of the common good is in question the Church involves herself in public debate.  The service of the common good surely also is a key criterion for political and civil leaders.

Making provision for the Religious Voice to be heard

The Church does not seek to have her moral teaching enshrined in law simply because the Church teaches it. Instead, the Church proposes that a particular issue on which she has clear moral teaching, ought to be safeguarded in civil law. When the Church seeks this, it is not doing so out of a sense of entitlement or wish to dominate. Instead, the Church is concerned that the value at stake ought to enjoy the protection of civil law.  In fact, the status in civil law of such an issue does not affect its moral value.

Allowing the Religious voice to be heard in an inclusive way

To deny the right of the Church, or any religious body, to participate in public debates is a hallmark of a country that seeks to deny a fundamental human right: the right of religious freedom. It attempts to corral religious believers and excises their contribution to important discussions about the kind of society that twenty-first century Ireland should have. It also reduces religion to a sort of private sphere that is prohibited from influencing public life. A mature secularism would welcome and provide space for religious believers in the public sphere.  A mature Catholicism would make its contributions with courtesy and respect for those with whom we disagree.  I cannot speak too highly, in this regard, of those who do not share our beliefs but who have insisted throughout recent crucial public debates that we be heard.  This is an approach which may truly be called liberal.  I only wish we had encountered it more.  It should be remembered here that religion is more than just worship; freedom in matters of religion also involves freedom to propose a moral code.  A truly liberal atmosphere not only permits but actively encourages the Church’s voice.


Croagh Patrick, Reek Sunday, this annual, great festival of faith, this last Sunday of July has for so long been a great place of gathering for so many generations to take stock of our lives.  To return to that Chinese Proverb it gives us collectively an opportunity to ‘scale the plains’ of our lives, our communities and our society from the ‘mountain-top perspective’.  From this vantage point we open up to the assistance of faith, the presence, company and blessing of the sacred.  We renew our appreciation for the gift of nature and the many other gifts.  We allow, finally, each others voices to be truly heard, trusting in the integrity and goodwill of all, and remembering those who as yet have no active voices in our society, but still exist and claim our protection and our love.

+ Michael Neary

Archbishop of Tuam

Notes to Editors:

  • This homily will be delivered by Archbishop Neary on the evening of Saturday 27 July in Saint Mary’s Church, Westport to mark the beginning of the pilgrimage. It will also be delivered on Sunday 28 July on the summit of Croagh Patrick during the 10.30am Mass.
  • The annual Reek Sunday Pilgrimage will take place this weekend on Ireland’s holy mountain Croagh Patrick, County Mayo in the Archdiocese of Tuam. The pilgrimage has been undertaken – uninterrupted – for over 1500 years. Croagh Patrick has over 100,000 visitors annually with up to 20,000 people expected on this special weekend.
  • This year’s pilgrimage will be led by Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam who will be accompanied by Archbishop Charles J. Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland.  This year they will be joined by Bishop Brendan Kelly, Bishop of Achonry, who is completing the Reek Sunday pilgrimage as part of a personal Year of Faith journey of various pilgrimage sites. The bishops will begin their climb on Sunday at 7.00am.
  • See www.catholicbishops.ie for more information on this year’s pilgrimage.