Faith Matters

Irish pilgrims on visit to seven churches in Rome

St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican - one of the seven churches to be visited by the pilgrims

A group of Irish pilgrims is undertaking a 20km pilgrimage in Rome for peace.

The group, which is being led by Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, is undertaking the pilgrim walk of the seven churches in Rome, as referred to by St Oliver Plunkett in his letters.

Assembling for morning prayer in St Peter's Square, pilgrims will proceed to walk the 20km route, visiting seven basilicas, and entering through the Holy Doors of Mercy at the four major basilicas of Saint Peter, Saint John Lateran, Saint Paul Outside the Walls and Saint Mary Major.

The prayer intention for the pilgrim walk will be `Peace and Reconciliation through the intercession of Saint Oliver Plunkett'.

The pilgrims will invoke God's loving mercy for Ireland, for the continent of Europe and for the world. They began on Tuesday of this week and will complete the pilgrimage on Friday.

Each year, thousands of pilgrims visit St Oliver Plunkett's shrine in St Peter's Church, Drogheda, in the Archdiocese of Armagh, to venerate his relics and to learn about the saint's extraordinary life story.

Pilgrims pray for the sick and troubled, for family and friends. They fittingly turn to St Oliver, who was martyred for his faith in a time of political, religious and social turmoil, to pray for his intercession concerning conflict areas at home and abroad.

He was canonised as a martyr by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1975. Along with Saints Patrick and Malachy, Oliver is a patron saint of the Archdiocese of Armagh.

Before departing on the pilgrimage Archbishop Martin said: "One hundred years on from the Easter Rising, we pilgrims will thank God for the huge steps that have been taken in Ireland towards peace and reconciliation.

"However, with pervasive crime, gangland killings and the continued threat of paramilitary violence, with poverty and increased homelessness north and south, we recognise that much still needs to be done to create a culture of life and prosperity for all the people of Ireland.

"At this time the world needs our prayers and we will be conscious on our pilgrim walk of how much the world needs to see the face of God's mercy. The work of mercy is needed today more than ever, especially in the face of mass hunger, injustice, wars, discrimination and violence in so many parts of the world. Remembering my predecessor Saint Oliver Plunkett, I will also be praying for Christians who are persecuted around the world today."

Tommy Burns from Drogheda, organiser of the pilgrimage and author of a recent biography of Saint Oliver Plunkett, said: "2016 marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and we will also remember the horrific loss of life of the youth of Europe at that time.

"While Europe may seem at peace today, Ukraine tells a different story. I sometimes think that the continent suffers from a collective loss of memory, as many people seem to have forgotten the important treasures of its Christian heritage. We are beset with shocking acts of terrorism, and Europe has difficulty in accepting its humanitarian responsibilities towards the many refugees on its borders. Why can we not welcome the many gifts which migrants can bring to our communities?"

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