Dr Eamon Martin: What St Patrick means to me
THIS year on St Patrick's Day, perhaps prompted by the situation of thousands of displaced people around the world, I will think about Patrick the captive, the slave in exile, Patrick the undocumented migrant.
St Patrick's experience of captivity as a teenager transformed and shaped his whole life and his relationship with God.
His lonely time as a slave on the hills of Ireland became a transforming experience, where he felt embraced by the fatherly love of God.
The more he prayed, day and night, the more he came to realise that God had not deserted him but, on the contrary, was calling him to repentance and conversion and a close friendship.
And so this 'unlearned refugee', as he described himself, began to develop a warm relationship with the living God.
Patrick felt like a stone that had been lying in the mud which God picked up and placed at the very top of the wall.
Much later in his life when Patrick, now bishop, became the object of character assassination and faced a vote of no confidence because of the sins and mistakes of his youth, he felt once more the presence and protection of God who loved him as the "apple of his eye".
No wonder our patron Saint was able to feel such empathy with the struggles of his people, especially those of his converts who were themselves captured and sold by the human traffickers of his day.
As we continue to journey through Lent and are called to "turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel", we might take courage from the deep conversion experience of our patron Saint.
We might also remember in a special way our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are displaced and exploited just as Patrick was, back in the fifth century.
:: Dr Eamon Martin is Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland