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Pilgrims climb up 'the Reek' to promote vocations in Ireland

Irish Church is grappling with shortage of priests and lack of vocations, with only handful of ordinations taking place this year
Pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday

Pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Published: August 03, 2023 05:03 AM GMT
Updated: August 03, 2023 05:09 AM GMT

A number of bishops joined thousands of pilgrims from across Ireland in the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage climb of Croagh Patrick as part of the Irish church’s drive for vocations to the priesthood.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland, climbed about a half-mile to the summit on July 30 to celebrate Mass in the small oratory at the top of Ireland’s holy mountain, where St. Patrick is reputed to have spent 40 days in the fifth century. Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe diocese and Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford & Lismore also took part in the pilgrim climb.

Speaking to OSV News, Archbishop Martin, who as Archbishop of Armagh is successor to St. Patrick, explained: "We are trying to get the message out this year that priesthood is a very much important vocation for the Church. Our numbers in the priesthood are dwindling but we are hopeful that the Lord is still calling people."

The Irish Church is grappling with a shortage of priests and a lack of vocations. Only a handful of ordinations will take place this year, with most of the 26 dioceses seeing no ordinations at all.

Archbishop Francis Duffy of Tuam, in whose diocese Croagh Patrick lies, told OSV News, "I think there is now a greater awareness of the shortage of priests."

"This 'Year of Vocation' is timely, and I think it will bear fruit. We had a vocations year about 15 years ago and that resulted in an increase in the number of people answering the call. It is important to raise awareness. There are young men who are ready to answer that call. People who are generous, who are thoughtful, and who are willing to take the risk for Christ."

He acknowledged that it was important to encourage men but they also had to be realistic about the situation.

In Tuam diocese, Archbishop Duffy explained, "no matter what parish I go to I hear people talking in a positive way about their priests; it is important for them to have a priest."

However, due to the shortage of clergy, not all parishes will have a priest living in their parish in the future. Instead, they will rely on the assistance and pastoral care of a neighboring priest, the archbishop said. "This is already happening," he said, acknowledging that some people are “disappointed and sad about this."

The changing situation has meant that lay people are now talking about training in order to do a greater amount of administration and pastoral work in the diocese, such as leading prayer services.

"It is something that we will be examining through the synodal process. I think it is going to be a gradual transition to having more and more parishioners directly involved in pastoral care."

Although lay-led funerals and marriages have not yet commenced in the diocese, they will come eventually, he said. "I think it is going to be a gradual movement but a very important one."

Archbishop Martin said St. Patrick, in whose footsteps pilgrims were following in the Reek Sunday pilgrimage, "had a huge sense of his own missionary calling and his role in spreading the Gospel."

Next Sunday, the Archbishop will lead the “Light the Fire” gathering at the Hill of Slane, Co Meath, where in 433, in defiance of the pagan High King Laoire, St. Patrick lit a Paschal fire to celebrate Easter.

"We have invited people of all different generations to come and light the fire again and to keep lighting the fire and enkindling the faith that has been handed on to us,” he said. “It is something very special. We are really keen to be joyful in our faith and to pass that on to future generations."

Among the 4,000 pilgrims who braved heavy rain and wind on July 30 to climb Croagh Patrick was Gilbert Cornell who was accompanied by his wife Noreen, daughter Nira Gail as well as two work colleagues, Beverly Julueta and Juliann Ami. It was Gilbert’s 12th time scaling Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday.

Their motivation was spiritual. "We had been asking for a child and waited seven years. We had two miscarriages. Gilbert promised that he would climb the mountain in gratitude every year after Nira Gail was born," Noreen told OSV News. The couple, who came to Ireland from the Philippines over 20 years ago, got up at 4 a.m. and traveled from Dublin in order to keep their pledge to complete the four-hour hike up and down the mountain.

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