55 pilgrims travelled on the first Meath diocesan pilgrimage in recent times to St Patrick’s Purgatory at Lough Derg. The pilgrimage was organised as part of the Year of Faith celebrations in the diocese and provided an opportunity to connect with the faith of Patrick and the faith of previous generations who had taken part in one of the most challenging and rewarding pilgrimages in Europe.

15 of the pilgrims were on the their first visit to the island. Others had not been there in over 20 years. Bare feet, fasting and keeping vigil provided the physical challenges through the pilgrimage which began at noon on Thursday and concluded after morning Mass on Saturday morning.

During the pilgrimage many reflected on their choice to remove their shoes, to fast and to keep vigil. We all knew that our vigil would end when the candle was extinguished on the second evening but all of us were aware of people who do not know when their own person vigil or challenge will reach a conclusion. For some, this involved discussions on poverty and the challenges facing many families; others spoek of their choice to eat simply for three days – knowing that some people do not have a choice in our world today or that some of our relations and friends have eating disorders; the challenge of keeping vigil was a reminder of those in our world who do not enjoy peace of mind or good health. Some pilgrims described the plgrimage as improving their “mindfulness”.

The “station prayers” recited on the first day slow down the body and helped to focus the mind on Christ at the centre of the pilgrim’s journey as barefoot pilgrims walked around the Basilica and around the foundations of the monastic cells on the island.

Support through the pilgrimage was provided in the nourishing liturgies in the Basilica, the table fellowship at the Dining Room and the frequent nudge and word of encouragment through the vigil. A celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Friday morning provided all pilgrims with a time to celebrate their awareness and acceptance of God’s mercy. This ceremony was followed by a renewal of Baptismal Promises.

Sally Chan who travelled from Hong Kong (via Ashbourne) described the pilgrimage as a unique opportunity to develop a strong mind so that we can cope with the challenges of life. Other pilgrims appreciated the time out for body and soul which enabled them to set the phone aside and to tune in instead to the Bell of the island and the supportive conversations of fellow pilgrims.

The Meath pilgrims formed half of the group of 106 pilgrims who kept vigil through Thursday night and until the Vigil candle was extinguished after Benediction on Friday night. This was followed by a welcome sleep in the dormitories before “rising on the third day” with a clear focus for the journey back to the mainland and to share the sense of Christian hope which many experienced on the island.

We prayed for all our families and neighbours while on pilgrimage. The final day of the pilgrimage (29 June) marked the Feast of the apostles Peter and Paul who made so many of their journeys by boat. Everyone in our group made a similar (but shorter) boat journey in two boats – St Davog and St Columba – across the lake to the mainland where our bus drivers were waiting to bring us home to share a Lough Derg meal with our families and to speak of the sense of calm and hope which we celerbated on the island.

A one day pilgrimage is being organised at present…details will be made available in the coming week…