Text: Archbishop Neary on Croagh Patrick

 Dr Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, climbed Croagh Patrick from Murrisk village in Co Mayo yesterday before celebrating Mass for the Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage. Archbishop Neary unveiled a plaque on the summit to mark the centenary of St Patrick's Oratory. The text of his homily follows. To look up to heaven is an instinct in every human soul. To climb mountains is the ambition of everyone who seeks a place of reflection and rest, a place where the problems of life can be put into their proper prospective. The early Celtic saints went up the mountains in the track of Christ who had a biblical reputation for seeing the mountain top as a place of prayer in close union with his Father. A travel writer some fifty years ago said that Croagh Patrick had the lofty appearance of a holy mountain, a place that carried praying people to their God on the mist wrapped summit which was full of mystery. At the turn of the last century poverty still punctuated the country and many saw no future in the rain lashed ungenerous land. So the emigrant ships carried away an uncertain people to the promised land of America, Australia or England. Yet, it was in those years that men and boys of these surrounding parishes carried stones, timber and cement to build an oratory on this mountain top on the site of an old summit shrine which was opened and blessed by Archbishop Healy, a hundred years ago. Since that day hundreds of thousands of people have carried their pain, their hopes, their loneliness, their doubts and their faith to a listening and caring God. There were many too who looked down on Clew Bay with its many islands and lifted their eyes to the great Atlantic and followed their emigrant children with a blessing and a prayer. The journey to the top of the mountain is like the journey of faith. The pilgrim begins the trek with energy and enthusiasm the path to the statue is relatively easy, much like our faith as we remember it in our early years. There were few great doubts or set backs in those days. God was close and we were sure of our step. As the slope rises it becomes a greater challenge. We struggle with the rock and scree and fatigue. There is always the temptation to turn back with ready made excuses and leave the climb and the struggle to others. Faith too, knows the unsure step as life challenges with many self-doubts and sense of direction. In our faith journey too we need the companionship and encouragement of others. When we finally catch sight of the oratory on the mountain top we are glad we made the uphill journey. I suppose too that as our life's journey reaches its final stage we will feel that the daily struggle with its endless perseverance has all been worthwhile. Croagh Patrick looks its best in winter when it stands stark against a frosty clear sky and you see the oratory on a pyramid of snow. At other times the mountain is shrouded in mist and the oratory is hidden. With the rain and mist of the West of Ireland the oratory can remain hidden for days on end. In these days of darkness in the life of the Irish Church we may be tempted to think that the Church has largely disappeared from daily life. We are faced with the set backs of clerical weakness and sin, with falling vocation to the priesthood and religious life, and the seeming weakness of faith in an Ireland of growing prosperity. But behind the mist and confusion there is still a vibrant Church calling men and women to seek God with the strength and companionship of others. This mountain has been made holy by the prayers and sacrifices of our ancestors who journeyed to the top in all weathers and held faith in God when hunger, poverty and pain were their constant companions. God must have seemed to be a distant being who ignored their prayers for better times and brighter prospects but as scripture puts it, 'they lifted their eyes to the mountain from whence came their help'. That is the challenge they would put to us today. Today we honour those who built this oratory under the severe conditions which the mountain imposes. It was no Cathedral but a small chapel built in the tradition of early monastic places of worship. In it Eucharist was celebrated and shared and people set off down the mountain with new hope and resolve to face whatever life might throw up in the year between then and the next climb. The building may not rank highly in the eyes of those who keep a careful eye on the heritage of Church buildings throughout the country, but it represents the deep heritage of a faith-filled people who struggle to keep faith and gave it undimmed to following generations. We still have to be reminded of the great legacy they left. The words of the prophet Isaiah, who was familiar with the mountains of the biblical landscape wrote, "In the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the mountains and it shall be exhalted above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it and many people shall go and say; come let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the houses of the God of Jacob and he will teach us his ways and we shall walk in his paths" (Isaiah 2:2). Our prayer today is that we will remain open to the way of the Lord and walk in his paths always. The Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage. is associated with St Patrick who, in 441, spent 40 days and nights fasting on the summit, following the example of Christ and Moses. Pilgrims have come here for more than 1,500 years. More than 100,000 visitors climb the mountain each year. 30,000 were expected this weekend. Source: Irish Catholic Media Office

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