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CNS, August 2004

Croagh Patrick

In some of the worst weather conditions experienced during the annual Croagh Patrick pilgrimage, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam called on the faithful not to lose hope.

The archbishop celebrated Mass at 10.30am in driving wind and rain on the summit of Ireland's holiest mountain, 762m (2,500 ft) above sea level. He was one of over 20 priests to celebrate Mass and hear the confessions of some 30,000 pilgrims on Reek Sunday, July 25.

In his homily, Dr Neary said: "Twenty-five years ago at Knock, addressing Our Lady in a sweeping prayer Pope John Paul II put all facets of Irish life before us, 'help this land to stay true to you and your son always'.

"[The Pope said] 'May prosperity never cause Irish men and women to forget God or abandon their faith. Keep them faithful in prosperity to the faith they would not surrender in poverty and persecution. Save them from greed, envy, from seeking selfish or sectional interests, help them to build a just and peaceful and loving society where the poor are never neglected and the rights of all, especially the weak, are respected'." The archbishop acknowledged: "Ireland has changed dramatically since then. We need not dwell on the tired litany of our failures as a Church or a nation over the last quarter of a century. Knowledge garnered from victims’ experiences and from tribunals has revealed the extent of the pain and the suffering which as a society we tried to push out of sight and therefore out of mind.

"Faith in the structures of the Church, in the institutions of state, and even in God himself has grown weak in the face of one scandal after another. So many different voices assail the Christian in today’s wonderful but complicated and demanding world. So many false voices are heard that conflict with the word of God. They tell us that truth is less important than personal gain; that comfort, wealth and pleasures are the true aims of life."

However, Dr Neary continued: "One theme that has run through the recent writings of the Pope is the Christian theme of 'hope'. It would be too easy to lose our way forward in the face of the many adversities of today. We could lose heart in face of falling numbers, in half empty seminaries, in the winding down of many religious orders and houses. We might only see the dark side in the growing number of priest-less parishes and the seeming allergy of many young people to religion. But the God in whom we believe in is one who does not make empty promises for the hereafter, nor does He trivialise the present darkness, futility and meaninglessness, but who Himself, in the midst of that darkness, futility and meaninglessness invites us to hope. The power of God is capable of finding hope when hope no longer exists and a way where the way is impassable."

Because of the poor weather, participation in this years pilgrimage was lower than average. For over 1,500 years the mountain has been a place of pilgrimage, getting its name from the 40 days and nights St Patrick spent fasting there in 441AD. Recent archaeological excavations indicate that the mountain summit was also considered to be a sacred place in the Bronze Age, long before the arrival of St Patrick and Christianity in Ireland.

Many people undertake the pilgrimage bare-foot, but there are surprisingly few casualties. About 30 people needed to be stretchered down the mountainside this year, with another 120 receiving treatment for hypothermia and minor injuries.