Lough Derg: Along the pilgrim path
LOUGH Derg has been 'talking pilgrimage' during Lent with a series of online conversations inspired by Pope Francis's words that pilgrim places "are where our people most willingly gather to express their faith in simplicity".
Pilgrimage academic Judith King and Lough Derg Prior Fr La Flynn have already given talks; next Tuesday, Fr Eamonn Conway, a member of the Lough Derg pastoral team, will speak about how the Co Donegal sanctuary is "a wellspring of wellbeing for the Christian community at this time".
They have been considering themes such as what it means to be pilgrim in today's culture and the idea that being a pilgrim is a humble expression of answering a call from deep within.
George Greenia, founder of the William & Mary Institute for Pilgrimage Studies, refers to this as "...seeking to be part of the collective memory of those who have prayed and walked the path before us".
That is often the case for pilgrims to Lough Derg. Many who walk the Pilgrim Path along the lakeshore or make the three-day pilgrimage do so in memory of a family member and to walk in their spiritual footsteps.
Pilgrims liken the experience to 'dropping down' into their body, becoming more present to who they are and more aware of their vulnerability; in so doing, they can become more available to the ever-present God.
On the shore at Lough Derg every pilgrim is greeted by Ken Thompson's statue of Patrick the Pilgrim.
Patrick here is a young man, barefoot, his pilgrim staff in one hand and his other hand outstretched in welcome.
Throughout his Confessio, Patrick speaks about the call that he could not ignore.
He writes about what God did for him: "I was like a stone lying deep in the mud; then he who is mighty came and in his mercy lifted me up and placed me on the top of the wall."
Pilgrims also surrender their vulnerability and the need to be 'lifted up'.
We are reminded that we are still becoming. The pilgrim is drawn more deliberately into a relationship with the sacred; being a pilgrim reminds us - as the pandemic has - we are relational humans.