THE Papal Nuncio visited Saul in Co Down last week to take part in a new novena which is following the steps of St Patrick around Ireland in the run-up to his feast day.
Saul is one of the sites most closely associated with Patrick - he established his first church there and it is where he died - and Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo joined with the congregation, including schoolchildren, in St Patrick's Church as they celebrated the saint's legacy and prayed for a renewal of faith in Ireland.
Archbishop Okolo said it had been uplifting to have prayed together on the same "holy ground, on which St Patrick trod".
"St Patrick was not sent by to Ireland by God by chance. His mission in Ireland was a deliberate intention of God," he said.
"We can read this in St Patrick's writings and from the example he left behind. When St Patrick wanted to come back to Ireland, there was a lot of opposition.
"In his time, there were many missionaries including bishops and priests. We have hardly heard of many of these, but we all know about St Patrick.
"This is very striking. Why is it so? St Patrick did not speak much, he didn't write much.
"Today there are too many words - words, words, words - written words, spoken words, words on the internet, words on the microphone, words on the streets and the market places.
"There are too many words. Just one word is important - the Word of God. If we could just listen to even a single Word of God."
The Archbishop noted that "Our Lady did not say anything at the Presentation of Our Lord, she kept everything in her heart".
"In the entire Gospel, St Joseph speaks only two words. Sometimes we speak too many words and we lose orientation and get confused," he continued.
"Only one word is important - the Word of God - we should listen to the Word of God".
The celebration of faith included Mass, Adoration and the Rosary, and two relics of St Patrick were also displayed - his jawbone, from the treasury of the Diocese of Down and Connor, and a piece of bone which came to Ireland from Rome in 1932.
Saul is where Patrick established his first church, on the site of a barn given to him by the local chieftain Dichu, who was one of his first converts. Patrick died at Saul on March 17 461.
Parish priest Fr Paul Alexander said St Patrick had "brought the light of Christ to Ireland".
"St Patrick's first church in Ireland was here in Saul and from here the faith spread," he said.
"We have to follow the example of St Patrick and bring the light to others. We have to start again, bringing the light of Christ into our hearts, our families and into our homes.
"We all know these are days of darkness, we have been living through them, days of fear and anxiety... Each of us has to ask ourselves, what am I going to do to bring the light of faith to others?
"Generations of our ancestors kept the faith alive. What are you going to do to keep the faith alive? Let us revive our faith and go forward with St Patrick."
In its own way, Archbishop Okolo's presence emphasised the influence of St Patrick.
As Fr Alexander said: "The faith St Patrick brought to Ireland, went out from our country to all parts of the world.
"St Patrick is also patron saint of Nigeria, the homeland of Archbishop Jude Thaddeus."
The nine-week novena to St Patrick began in Armagh on January 19, with Archbishop Eamon Martin declaring it "a wonderful opportunity to unite in prayer around the faith of St Patrick in places he visited on his mission to bring Christ's light to the Irish".
"God sent St Patrick to bring His word, to enlighten the people of Ireland, at a time of darkness... Through St Patrick, Ireland was evangelised and transformed into a Christian community from where the light of Christ shone out across the world.
"Today we live in a different world and Ireland has lost its brightness. Through this novena, we will implore God, to once again send the spirit of St Patrick upon us so that we, like Patrick, may become messengers of your Gospel of joy, spreading and strengthening the faith throughout our beautiful land."
From Armagh, the novena moved to Slemish, Co Antrim, and last week to Saul. Last night it was in Slane, Co Meath.
The novena to St Patrick is the inspiration of Co Limerick priest Fr John Mockler SDS, who was appointed last April by Pope Francis as a consultant to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
"Ireland needs healing, families need healing, people of all ages need healing," said Fr Mockler.
"All true healing will begin with a rejuvenation of the faith. Ireland needs St Patrick.
"He is God's gift to Ireland... Renewal of the faith and vibrant living of the faith will bring us out of these dark times. This is the focus of the novena.
"St Patrick, our glorious patron, is honoured less and less by the Irish, in recent years, at home and abroad.
"I hope that through this novena true devotion to our patron saint will spread with proper celebration of his feast day throughout Ireland and by all Irish people across the world."
Next week's novena to St Patrick will be held in Westport, Co Mayo (February 16), followed by Rathvilly, Co Carlow (February 23), Limerick (March 2) and Pettigo (March 9) before returning to St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh on March 16.
Each novena is being broadcast by Shalom World Prayer at 7pm at www.swprayer.org; updates are also available on the Facebook group 'Hail Glorious Saint Patrick'.