Archbishop Neary gave the following homily to the annual Croagh Patrick pilgrimage on Friday: This is the year when our attention is drawn to the world's highest mountain, to Mount Everest in the Himalayas. Fifty years ago that peak was first conquered by Hilary and Tensing. Others, including the Irish, have made it to the top ever since. Mountains have always presented a challenge to those who live in the valleys. Men and women have risked their lives down the years to stand at the mountain top and look back at a distant landscape. Today we approach a less intimidating mountain here in Mayo and as we set out we are not just trying to reach the Reek top but at the same time we search for something deeper and more elusive. Each year, here, we are presented with a fresh challenge as life throws up new problems and new dilemmas. We come to the mountain top to clear our vision, to discern a path for the future and discover what we should do when we come back down again. When we look down from this mountain, we can pick out the spires and the church buildings which stretch from Achill away to the East and to the islands which punctuate the Atlantic. In years past we knew that each parish had its own resident priest and each parish held its own pride in its native sons and daughters, in its football or hurling teams, its drama groups and in its history. Now the scene has changed totally. Population decline combined with shortage of vocations results in many of those parishes having no resident priest while old identities are dying. Year after year now, dioceses throughout Ireland are keenly aware of the falling number of priests and students for the priesthood while convents, which were the centres of education for so many, are closing their doors. This surely prompts us to have a fresh look at the challenges of tomorrow. For years, the parish was run and managed by the priest with a few voluntary lay people while the majority were content to be passive congregations who were happy to live out their lives in the faith of the church from the day of baptism to the day of death. There was a priest at the altar, a priest in the confessional, a priest to bless the rings. There was a priest at the bedside with the oil for anointing, and a priest to trowel the clay over the coffin laid to rest. Church leaders could have been forgiven for thinking that this would last forever. Now the stark reality is staring us in the face. These days, for the foreseeable future, are gone. Why is it that most young people are no longer attracted towards the priesthood or religious life? Is it that people have grown selfish? Has the spirit of adventure slipped away? Have the young been seduced by the affluence of today's Ireland? Have they been deeply affected by the scandals of recent years? Has the notion of service disappeared from our land? I think not. We have only to look back at the way this country hosted the Special Olympics. Towns, villages and local communities across the country reached out in generosity while 30,000 volunteers made the games a source of pride. The great goodwill is there. As a Church we are challenged to harness anew that willingness and great generosity. John Hunt, a man who led the Everest expedition fifty years ago reminded the world press at the time that the mountain was just not conquered by the two men who stood on the peak but by the entire team who were their support from the time they took their first steps upwards. Pope John Paul in a letter for the new millennium in 2000 highlighted the need for "new forms of association, traditional and newer church movements which would give the church a vitality that is God's gift in a new spring time of the spirit". Today the call goes out from our parishes asking you to step forward, for you are part of the "priesthood of the laity of all believers" which was so strongly reaffirmed as far back as the second Vatican Council. The renewal of the church in Ireland cannot depend upon the efforts of bishops and priests alone but on the renewal, energy and commitment which lay people can bring to every parish in Ireland. The prophet Isaiah had this to say: "In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills..Many people shall come and say "come let us climb the Lord's mountain" (Isaiah Ch.2). Many lay people in our Archdiocese of Tuam and in others dioceses have begun that climb already. Their work of service to the poor, to the sick, to the housebound rarely makes the headlines. Many bind up wounds of body and mind but now the Christian communities call for more. All baptised Christians carry a responsibility to share their faith. Many are afraid to take that further step and yet Pope John Paul constantly reminds us that holiness is not the preserve of the few and should not be thought of as "something outside the boundaries of ordinary life but within the ordinary everyday experiences in which you find yourselves, at home, in the parish, in the work place, at school and in the playing field". It is clear that we cannot live on our past history. We cannot thrive on a theology which is rooted only in the past. We need to turn to God for guidance. Whatever the reluctance or the fear we should call out in the words of Psalm 121: "I lift up my eyes to the mountains from where shall come my help? My help shall come from the Lord who made Heaven and Earth". As we face this mountain of Croagh Patrick today we may see it as a symbol of a greater challenge, the challenge to make the Irish Church a more vibrant one, born both from the tradition of the past and the powerful energy of parishes like your own. We can remember the old ruins of houses from which families had to take the emigrant boat in the past. Thatched roofs fell down on empty fireplaces which one day echoed to the dancing fiddle. We cannot allow that to be a symbol of the local church in years to come. The exciting challenge for all of us is to strengthen, develop and renew our church in a changed and changing Ireland, especially at parish level. Cardinal Newman often said that "in all times the laity have been the measure of the church". May we look down from his sacred mountain and see with clearer vision the exciting task and challenge ahead. +Michael Neary Archbishop of Tuam Source: Catholic Communications Office
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