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Kenneth Allen

Nuncio to Ireland Will Open Holy Door at ‘St. Patrick’s Purgatory’

Lough Derg pilgrimage site where pilgrims walk barefoot through ‘stations’ has been attracting faithful since 7th century

Papal Nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Charles Brown will open the Holy Door of Mercy at Saint Patrick’s Basilica, Lough Derg, on Sunday to inaugurate the Jubilee of Mercy Pilgrimage Season.

At Lough Derg, the pilgrimage season commences Sunday and ‘One Day Retreats’ continue on certain days until 30 May.  ‘The Three Day Pilgrimage Season’ commences on Wednesday 1 June until 15 August.

Pilgrims can begin their pilgrimage on any day up to and including 13 August, with One Day Retreats recommencing after this on Sunday 21 August.

During the Three Day Pilgrimage, pilgrims make ‘Stations’: they walk barefoot, kneel on the hallowed beds, fast, pray and keep vigil.  On One Day Retreats, pilgrims enter into a day of prayer and reflection and keep footwear on.  14,000 pilgrims visit Lough Derg every year, and since 1861 the number is estimated to be two million.  On average, 70% of pilgrims have been female and 30% male.  Eight out of ten pilgrims return to the island and each year a growing number of new younger people come to experience the sacred island.

Speaking ahead of the start of the 2016 pilgrimage season, Archbishop Brown, said, “I am looking forward to Sunday as Lough Derg is very special for me, as it is for all pilgrims.  It is really wonderful that during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, pilgrims have the opportunity to pass through a specially dedicated Holy Door on this holy island.  By doing so we, the pilgrims to Lough Derg – in the words of Pope Francis himself – ask, “the Father to forgive our sins and to bathe us in his merciful ‘indulgence’” (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 22). 

Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, said, “The faithful of the diocese are honoured that the Papal Nuncio will open a ‘Holy Door of Mercy’ on Lough Derg, on Sunday.  Having a Door of Mercy, in this extraordinary Jubilee Year, puts Lough Derg on a par with the major shrines and holy places of pilgrimage and retreat throughout the world.”

Lough Derg Prior, Father Owen McEneaney, added, “The island shrine is a sacred space of mercy and everyone is invited to ‘Come and let God’s mercy find you on Lough Derg’.  It is a special sanctuary of peace and personal challenge.  There are no outsiders here: everyone is equal.  During 2016, I invite pilgrims into a new a commitment: if you are seeking time out from the daily grind of the everyday to come and walk in the footsteps of our forebears.  Lough Derg reaches out to those in need: whatever your creed, background, personal circumstances or religious practice, everyone is most welcome.”

Five hundred pilgrims are expected to attend the opening day of the 2016 pilgrimage on Sunday.  Archbishop Brown will preach the homily at Mass.

Lough Derg – A place of faith history and pilgrimage

Saint Patrick’s Sanctuary – the pilgrimage site – is located on Station island in Lough Derg which is four miles north of the village of Pettigo, Co Donegal.  It is often referred to as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory or simply Lough Derg.  The Diocese of Clogher has been the sole custodian of Lough Derg since 1780.  Historical records date the practice of pilgrimage here to the 7th Century.

Legend also presents the cave on the island as the place where Saint Patrick had his vision of Purgatory.  Saint Patrick is said to have left a disciple in the area and the foundation of one of the earliest monastic Christian settlements followed.  The remnants of the monastic prayer cells remain central to the pilgrimage tradition.  Today, the Lough Derg Three Day Pilgrimage follows a pattern prayer from the Celtic monastic time and shows remarkable continuity with the earliest systematic account of the pilgrimage, which dates to the 1600s.  Before this, several accounts of pilgrimage to Lough Derg survive from medieval times.  A 1346 Purgatory fresco on the wall of a convent church in Todi depicts Saint Patrick, and witnesses the fame of Lough Derg in continental Europe at that period.  Following the Celtic monastic period, history points to the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine (12th – 15th Century) and the Franciscans (late 15th Century – mid 18th Century).  The Lough Derg pilgrimage continued through the religious persecution of post Reformation times.  A detailed account survives in the 1714 Relatio Status of Bishop Hugh MacMahon.  The Diocese of Clogher has been the sole custodian of Lough Derg since 1780.  The island pilgrimage is currently overseen by the Prior, Father Owen McEneaney, a priest of the Diocese of Clogher.  See www.loughderg.org

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