Homily of Archbishop Francis Duffy for the Vigil Mass in Saint Mary’s Church, Westport, Co Mayo, Archdiocese of Tuam, ahead of the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage on Reek Sunday
- The Synodal Process is a pathway not a runway … There are no quick fix solutions or approaches as we reflect on and consider our Church.
- The one certainty is the ongoing and sustained decline both in the numbers who practice and in the numbers of those who answer the Lord’s call to priesthood and religious life.
- I suggest you look at your priest, he may be the last in a long line of resident pastors and may not be replaced. I suggest you look at your church, you may be lucky to have a Sunday Mass or several, but for how much longer? I suggest you look at your fellow parishioners at Mass, who among your neighbours will continue to be the new leaders and carry on pastoral work in your parish, alongside a much smaller number of clergy? Who among them will lead prayer services and keep faith alive and active through catechesis and other initiatives?
- This is a time for faith, faith into action, faith into reaching out.
We are here because of Saint Patrick. The origins of Reek Sunday rest with him, the apostle of the Irish; the man who played a central role in helping to spread the Christian faith on this island. He climbed the ‘Reek’ and fasted for forty days. It is reminiscent of Moses’ forty days on Mount Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments from God. Pilgrims come here, retracing Saint Patrick’s steps, this weekend and throughout the year, for a variety of reasons, each pilgrim knows his or her own. His was a journey of faith in Christ. Saint Patrick had a keen sense of God being with him all the time. That is reflected in the prayer of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate ‘Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me’.
Saint Patrick preached the Good News of Jesus Christ. That was his central mission and purpose: to lead people into faith in the loving and compassionate God. God whose son, Jesus of Nazareth, brought a message about how vital each human life to God is in this life and in the next.
The parable told by Jesus and recorded in today’s gospel, and familiar to Saint Patrick, is saying that no one knows what is around the corner. We cannot predict the future or when God will call us, and call us he will. Eventually and inevitably the Lord will come for us, there is no escape; it is a sobering thought, but not one that could cause us to despair. It is also an opportunity to think of God’s love for us, as reflected in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That same message as preached by Saint Patrick to our ancestors all those centuries ago.
Mountains, and one as majestic as this, prompt us to seek a bigger picture. Whether we are at the summit or on the lowlands, this towering piece of earth and rock ushers in thoughts of perspective, things seem different, a new view of a changing landscape. The landscape of the Catholic Church in Ireland, as you know, has been changing for some time and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has formally entered a Synodal Process. I am convinced that this is the way to go and it will be a fruitful new departure. At my installation in Tuam, last January, I said that the Synodal Process is a pathway not a runway. Some people wondered if I was dampening down expectations, I said I was being realistic. It is a new chapter for the Catholic Church in this country. It means learning as we journey together all the while being guided by the Holy Spirit. It means being patient with each other and respectful of differing views, being adventurous and willing to value the new, as well as the traditional, and it calls for being focussed. That focus has to be on Jesus Christ. If faith in Christ is not at the centre of the synodal pathway then what we have is merely a talking shop.
There are no quick fix solutions or approaches as we reflect on and consider our Church. Instead we journey together on a path that will have many twists and turns and will not always be easy. All developments, innovations and continuity must serve Jesus Christ. We can be confident in this because Christ promised the Holy Spirit to be with us and we continue to pray for His guidance.
The context in which we embark on this path has many expectations but there is one certainty, and one key essential component. The one certainty is the ongoing and sustained decline both in the numbers who practice and in the numbers of those who answer the Lord’s call to priesthood and religious life. Each diocese has its own story of this reality. Every parish will be effected by this in terms of the number of clergy available and the number and frequency of Masses. All trends are dramatically downwards with no turning point in sight. I suggest you look at your priest, he may be the last in a long line of resident pastors and may not be replaced. I suggest you look at your church, you may be lucky to have a Sunday Mass or several, but for how much longer? I suggest you look at your fellow parishioners at Mass, who among your neighbours will continue to be the new leaders and carry on pastoral work in your parish, alongside a much smaller number of clergy? Who among them will lead prayer services and keep faith alive and active through catechesis and other initiatives?
Some may think I have painted a somewhat dismal picture, it is the current reality as I see it, and as I know many of you see it too. While we must face it and work with it, we must not lose hope. We have the Lord with us and He will lead us through this time of transition and restructuring.
Should we give up? Certainly not, nor should we let the situation drift. This is a time of decline in some respect but it is a time of great hope. Opportunities are there to be seized.
Is this a good time to be a priest, or, is this a good time to consider becoming a priest, to answer that call? It is the best of times to be a priest, challenging – yes, with risks – yes, with God on our side – yes.
Is this the time to be silent about the Good News of Jesus Christ and to relegate it to the back pages? No, definitely not. This is a time for faith, faith into action, faith into reaching out. ‘I arise today, through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the creator of creation’. Christ be with us, Christ is with us.
Notes to Editors
- Archbishop Francis Duffy is Archbishop of Tuam
The priests serving Westport Parish are Father Charlie McDonnell and Father Sebastian Richard. There is a long-standing tradition that the Archbishop of the day is the Parish Priest of Westport, and this tradition continues in the person of Archbishop Duffy. The Pilgrims’ Prayer Card is available in Teach Na Míosa and the Murrisk Community Café as well as in the ‘Patricks Path’ section onwww.westportparish.ie.
Tomorrow, Reek Sunday, Oisín Walsh of the Catholic Communications Office will be available to assist journalists reporting on the 2022 Croagh Patrick annual pilgrimage..
- Launch of Saint Patrick’s Confession
As part of Reek Sunday 2022, a modern version of Saint Patrick’s wonderful Confession will be made available to pilgrims. The word “Confession” has been changed to “Testimony”, which more accurately reflects what Saint Patrick meant in writing it. Many people have never read his Testimony that are written in Latin, and of which eight copies exist today. Included in Saint Patrick’s Testimony Pamphlet are 70 Scripture verses/passages that Patrick quoted. When unfolded fully it becomes an A1 sized poster, with Saint Patrick’s famous prayer on the back: the Breastplate. Copies will be made available at the Mass launching the Pilgrimage this year. This novel poster is also an attractive tool for evangelisation and is in line with what Saint Pope John Paul II envisioned when he said that the New Evangelization needed to be “new in its ardour, methods and expression” (1983, address to the Catholic bishops of Latin America), and has also been endorsed by Archbishop Francis Duffy for this year’s pilgrimage.
As Saint Patrick is pre-Reformation, he is considered a potentially uniting figure among Christians, and this is demonstrated by the wide range of Church leaders, from all denominations, who have endorsed the Saint Patrick’s Testimony Pamphlet.
- Preserving and restoring the Croagh Patrick mountain path for Pilgrims
Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick (2,510ft/765m), Ireland’s holy mountain, has been undertaken for over 1500 years. Croagh Patrick dominates the landscape of southwest Mayo both spiritually and physically. The pilgrimage is associated with Saint Patrick who, in 441, spent forty 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 new Christian beliefs and locally become known as Domhnach na Cruaiche (Reek Sunday). A virtual tour and additional information on Croagh Patrick can be viewed on www.tuamarchdiocese.org and on www.westportparish.ie.
Safety advice for Pilgrims
Croagh Patrick is a physically demanding pilgrimage. Intending pilgrims should make themselves aware in advance of health and safety information about the mountain. Pilgrims should also heed the instructions of stewards, the mountain rescue teams, Order of Malta, and Gardaí. While it is a custom for some to make the climb barefoot, pilgrims should come prepared for changeable weather conditions, and are advised to bring suitable warm/waterproof clothing, good footwear, walking stick/staff and water, and to be mindful of the safety of themselves and others. See www.mountaineering.ie and http://www.mayomountainrescue.ie/index.php/advice/safety-and-equipment
Preservation and restoration of the Croagh Patrick mountain path
In recent years the Croagh Patrick Stakeholders’ Group has been responsible for monumental work in preserving and safeguarding the mountain. As the largest annual gathering on Ireland’s Holy Mountain, it is essential that Reek Sunday pilgrims, and indeed all pilgrims, play their part. Croagh Patrick is an iconic feature of the Mayo landscape of significant natural, cultural and spiritual importance. While Reek Sunday – the National Pilgrimage Day – on Croagh Patrick stretches back many centuries, we are conscious of the obligation to support the conservation of the mountain for future generations.
The Church has actively engaged with other Stakeholders to undertake the Sustainable Access and Habitat Restoration project currently underway which aims to provide a robust path for access and to restore the eroded parts of the mountain. As part of our support for the project, we have committed to minimising the impact of pilgrimage on Croagh Patrick, the drinking water that comes from the mountain streams, the local community and other users of the mountain. In order to do this, we ask each pilgrim to comply with the following:
– If traveling by car, please park responsibly and follow the instructions of stewards on the day.
– Stay on the defined path on the mountain (where in place) and do not encroach on the adjoining habitat which may be in the process of restoration.
– The mountain streams provide drinking water for the local community. Be respectful of this while on the mountain.
– We endorse the ‘Leave No Trace’ principle. Please do not discard any litter on the mountain.
– Dogs are not allowed on the mountain. Please respect this requirement.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Oisín Walsh 00353 (0) 86 167 9504. The email address for Westport Parish is:[email protected]