Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
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Pilgrimage to Ireland
by Father Mark Pautler, for the Inland Register
(From the May 19, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)
Several months ago, Dennis Hake, director of the Catholic Charities Foundation, publicized a pilgrimage, “St. Patrick’s Ireland,” to take place April 10-19. Previously, I had joined a few pilgrimages/tours (Guatemala, Greece, Lourdes/Fatima, Poland/Rome). These excursions have been rewarding. They are not necessarily refreshing as though you were on a leisurely vacation, but that’s not the point. I also confess to being a “Chicken Little” when it comes to travel. I want to know where I’m going to sleep each night. The more events, excursions and meals that are planned and pre-paid, the more comfortable I am.
Deducting a day’s travel at each end, we were on the island for eight full days. They were full. The group on the tour was 42 strong. There was a core group of 20 from Spokane. Collette’s Travel filled the tour with travelers from Texas and Rhode Island. Most were Catholic, but a Congregationalist pastor was among the non-Catholics in the tour.
In preparation for the trip, I listened to an audio book on Irish history from the 12th century. Ireland’s history can be summed up in two words: It’s complicated. All we know is that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. The rest is shrouded in mist and legend.
Foreign travel used to be exotic. A person would return from Europe with film for prints or slides. Then he would inflict his pictures or slide show upon innocent friends, relatives and neighbors, who would politely pretend to be interested. For the most part, this form of torment is gone because now everybody carries a camera phone. If I inflict my travel log on you, I’ll have to endure yours.
Well, I’ve gone this far so let me inflict a few details about Patrick’s Ireland. What is most memorable? What was most moving? What is most remarkable?
Most memorable: what’s for breakfast? For the 7 a.m. breakfast, each hotel provided a buffet. The first day we enjoyed a spread of bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, an assortment of breads, fruit, cereal, yogurt, coffee, tea and juices. And so it continued for the second, third, and subsequent mornings. If you ate nothing else, an Irish breakfast will get you through the day. Each of the four hotels had some variation on the basic theme. My favorite: porridge with a shot of Bushmills.
Most moving: Croagh Patrick (Patrick’s Stack, not Patrick’s Staff), the mountain where the saint fasted for 40 days. We admired Croagh Patrick from the base, rather than the summit. But there are other points of interest at the site, in particular the “coffin ship” of the Irish Famine Memorial. I spent a few moments before this distressing sculpture. How many of today’s tribulations come together in this memorial: hunger, refugees, human trafficking, desperation. In this silent space, the groans of suffering humanity reverberate.
Most remarkable: Galway, the Cathedral of the Assumption and St. Nicholas. At first glance I thought, “My, what a well preserved medieval church!” But it’s not. By European standards, it’s almost new. Construction began in 1958 and the cathedral opened in 1965. This makes it a bridge church, the crossover from the pre-Vatican- to post-Vatican-II church. Msgr. John Steiner and I considered whether the sanctuary, ideally situated at the “crossing” (the intersection of the nave and transepts) was the original design or a revision made in light of Vatican II reforms. From all indications, this was the original design. The space that we would designate as “behind the altar” is identified as the “retro-choir.” It provides ample seating for those who prefer to view the celebrant from the back.
Most enlightening: bus tour of Belfast. Although only 90 minutes, the local guide did an excellent job explaining the crossover of North Ireland from “the Troubles” to the peace of the present time. Nonetheless, it’s complicated. As Msgr. Steiner can attest, Belfast is very friendly.
Most amusing: Our visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh came in the midst of a long day of travel. The church was open; the gift shop was open; the restrooms were not open. However, a nearby KFC (that’s right, they’re all over the place) happily welcomed us and provided for our needs. Colonel Sanders was appropriately thanked. One can find southern hospitality in North Ireland.
(Father Pautler is Judicial Vicar and Chancellor of the Diocese of Spokane.)
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