Some time ago Fr Owen McEneaney, the Prior of Lough Derg, asked if I’d consider doing a few days as member of the Pastoral Team. Bishop Liam MacDaid had said something similar to me last year when I was involved with the priests of Clogher on their Diocesan Retreat. It’s not something I’d have considered really but when Fr Owen contacted me, I thought it might be a chance to do something different for a few days. I agreed. It seemed a while off but like all these things, the time passed and the days arrived. I’m here! A blue fleece and a little name-tag suggest I am a member of the “Pastoral Team”.
It’s many years since I’ve been on Lough Derg for the “Three Day Pilgrimage”, though I have been here a good number of times on the “One Day Pilgrimage” – a much kinder chance to explore something of this Sacred Space. Kinder suits me!!
The pilgrimage is quite demanding – fasting from midnight the day before you come to the island and, on arrival, removing shoes and socks – not to be seen again until leaving the island some three days later! Food is not an option either, apart from the Lough Derg Meal of dry toast and black tea or coffee made available to the pilgrims once a day.
My situation then is different and I have wrestled with guilt as I wear my shoes, have access to food and, as you can see from this blog entry, internet. I’ve wrestled but have been able to reconcile these truths with my low threshold of endurance!! Messing aside, it’s something that I will think about doing again. If not this year, maybe 2025!!
On the boat yesterday I met a couple from Westmeath and a young teacher from Armagh. The couple turned out to be neighbours of a cousin whose name I mentioned in passing. All three were determined to make the most of these days. Later two diocesan groupings arrived – one from Ferns and another from Meath. I met two Filipino girls, one a nurse and the other a student. I met two neighbours from home – one who was here just ten days ago but came back because her friend wanted to go and had nobody to accompany her. I was told a man left the Island yesterday, having faithfully completed the pilgrimage at the age of ninety and that others come regularly to the Island during the season, including one who comes weekly. An amazing variety of pilgrims, some coming here with friends and others, like the young Armagh teacher, making the decision and travelling alone. She, like all the others, becomes a pilgrim and shares the Island with others over these days.
Last night I gave the Introductory Talk to the Pilgrims who had come on the Island yesterday. They had been here for a number of hours but my role was to share a few thoughts as they began their “VIGIL” at 10.30 last night, a vigil that would see them watch and pray through the night, attend Mass at 6.30am this morning, Confessions at 8.30am and continue in prayer through the day until their Vigil concludes after Night Prayer tonight. At 10.30 another group begins its Vigil and so goes the cycle of these days.
One of the vantage points I’m experiencing these days is to witness the commitment of the staff here. Amazing! Such a variety of ages and talents – from young students to people who have given their lives to working on the Holy Island. Talented singers, musicians and people so at home with themselves and the Liturgy that accompanies these days. Truly wonderful to see.
On my way here I stopped in a filling station to get a few bits. The girl who served me asked where I was going and I told her Lough Derg. Then I had to tell her I was helping out since I had bought a breakfast roll and figured she’d think “He should be fasting” … I did a few more things in the shop and when I was leaving she followed me outside and said “Will you say a prayer for me on Lough Derg?” I told her I would and I did. I will again. I’m praying for all that I know – family, friends, parishioners, those who are sick, bereaved or in any kind of need. I hope you know and believe that. I’m asking you to pray for me too.
My days here are just a “drop in the lake” but the journey continues for all those who work here and decide to come here. For now, I’m happy to be one of them!
The fleece they gave me is a bit on the tight side!! Maybe I should have a few Lough Derg meals 🙂 That said, I enjoyed the Breakfast Roll too ….