HOMILY FOR CROAGH PATRICK PILGRIMAGE 2006
BY ARCHBISHOP MICHAEL 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 tire.
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 measured.
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 hurdled 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”.