An early and unwelcome rising at 4.45am! Taxis ordered for 5.30am to take us to Cross Mountain where we began our ascent before 6am. Joined by Áine at the foot of the mountain, we were wished well and joined in prayer as we began the Way of The Cross that would take us to the fourteenth station and the mountain top. Some of the group opted not to join the climb but joined us in praying the Way of The Cross in the Peace Garden beside St James’ Parish Church. The climb began in darkness but by the third station (The First Fall of Jesus) light began to break through.
There was another group ahead of us on the journey and we waited for them as they completed their prayers at each station. As they moved off, we took our place and offered some prayers, song and reflection while other groups waited to follow when we moved on. Like so many other things here, it is mind-blowing to see the amount of people who are at prayer from dawn to nightfall and, I suspect, beyond nightfall to dawn. That, for me, has been the most amazing revelation – that prayer is so alive and well in the hearts of countless thousands of people. I’ve no doubt the same is found in Lourdes, Knock, Fatima, The Holy Land, Lough Derg, Croagh Patrick and all those places throughout the world where people go on pilgrimage – taking time away from the ordinary to renew and deepen their faith.
A lovely feature of this climb was the way people attended to one another along the way. It was often just the touch of a hand but it made the difference and what seemed undoable became clearly possible. Backpacks were carried by people who didn’t own them or know their contents but felt better able perhaps to carry them than those who had packed them. Simon at the fifth station comes to mind and was alive in our midst.
At the mountain top, there is a huge cross bearing the inscription 33-1933 and people gathered around it in prayer and gratitude. Later in the day, I learned that the Cross was put there in 1933, following a revelation to the then Parish Priest that a Cross should be placed there. He shared this with his congregation who agreed and set about its construction – a mammoth task made no less so by the fact that all the men were away at war. This Cross was built by the women of Medjugorje. Prayer in graffiti form was all around the perimeter of the cross and I noticed a girl writing her words just beside me. The other side of me there was a young girl with head bowed in deep prayer. I took her photo, though I’ve no idea who she is, as she typified the depth of feeling and prayer found at this cross. I don’t know what or who she was praying for but I truly hope and pray that her prayers are answered.
A young woman approached me and asked if I’d say a prayer with her group as they were there from New Zealand and did not have any priest with them. I was honoured and we shared a prayer and blessing. Later in the day, I met one of them again and was told they’re keeping a blog and that they wanted to mention me on it. I said I was doing one too so maybe our paths will cross again in cyberspace. I was pleased to be asked to pray with them and again so impressed by their presence and journey.
The descent was, in many ways, more harrowing than the climb. This was due to very large numbers meeting us on their way to the top. Our guide suggested an early start and it was obvious she had been giving solid advice in this regard. Also we did not stop the same we did on our way up since we had prayed the Way of The Cross already and those stops for prayer helped shorten the journey and, in a way, break it into smaller pieces. No such “lay-by” on the way down. What was good on the way down was the way people, once again, minded each other.
When we got to the bottom some of the group got taxis home and I’d have been happy to do so but was “shamed” into walking, not least by Sr Maire Ryan’s decision to walk. In the end, I’m glad I walked – it was good and cleared the head.
Later we went to Mass in the parish church and, together with Fr Tommy, went for a drive with Áine to see some of the area. We stopped at a very spectacular waterfall though I’m told the water is only at a fraction of its normal level of activity. It still looks impressive.
Today is the 31st Wedding Anniversary of Dominic and Teresa Lynch (our Pilgrimage organisers) and when we got back to the house we discovered a surprise had been laid on for them by the people of the house and other pilgrims. They were presented with a lovely anniversary cake and a Rosary Beads for two – quite literally – a Rosary with one Cross but two sets of beads to be prayed together by the couple whose names were included in the beads of some of the decades. It was a nice moment, accompanied by Tommy Gallagher, one of the pilgrims, singing a song he composed on this pilgrimage.
My thoughts on the day and what this part of the pilgrimage means – I’m glad I did it. If you told me a few weeks ago that I’d be on my way up a mountain before 6am, leading people in the Way of The Cross, I’d not have seen it but that’s what happened. Did I feel the better of it? Yes. Did I have the deep sense of being at one with God that others felt? I’m not so sure I did. I continue to feel a bit inadequate in that area and often, I don’t want to use the word “envy” but maybe “wish” that I had that deep sense of prayer and at oneness with God that is so clearly visible on the face of that unknown girl but, all that said, I believe it was time well spent. I’m not so sure that climbing the mountain brought me closer to God who, I believe, is close to me on ground level. If I didn’t climb the mountain, I’d still believe this is a good place to be but I’m glad I climbed it – not least because Id did it with those with whom I’m travelling and they did it with me. It’s always good to be with others and have them with you. Finally, the view at the top was impressive but much more-so the faith of the people gathered around that Cross. That will stay with me …..