Faith Matters

Annual Down and Connor pilgrimage returns to Saul

Three-year-old Isabela Marie Smith enjoying the summer weather on top of St Patrick's mountain at Saul in Co Down, on which stands the world's largest statue of St Patrick. More than 300 people took part in the annual Down and Connor Diocesan Pilgrimage on Sunday, led by Bishop Noel Treanor. Picture by Bill Smyth.

THE annual pilgrimage to Saul Mountain in Co Down was held on Sunday for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor, accompanied by clergy from the area, led crowds of parishioners from across the diocese on the pilgrimage, which commemorates the life of St Patrick who landed in Saul in 432 AD.

In his homily, Bishop Treanor recalled how the accounts of St Patrick's arrival in Saul and his engagement with and conversion of the local Chieftain Dichu were familiar stories to all who gathered in this holy place.

Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor with local children at Saul, Co Down on Sunday. Picture by Bill Smyth.

It was in this historic and religious site that Patrick replaced fear with faith in a God of compassion and boundless love. In this sacred place, local religions met Christian faith in the God incarnate in Jesus Christ, and the pagan teachings gave way to a new understanding and sense of God, a God of forgiveness.

The local chieftain Dichu recognised something important in the Good News that Patrick brought to the shores of Ireland and this changed him and all who heard this message of hope.

Bishop Treanor explained that while St Patrick is often attributed to bringing Christianity to Ireland, St Patrick built upon the "whispering faith" of earlier traders from France and further afield.

St Patrick arrived into the seedlings of Christian communities who had received the Christian faith from these visitors seeking shelter and commerce; as they did so, they spread the Gospel.

Bishop Treanor highlighted that at the start of the third millennium, we in our respective roles need to be inspired by the lives of St Patrick and these early traders to spread the Good News again across the shores of Ireland.

The Saul pilgrimage took place the day after the national Pre-Synodal Assembly in Athlone. Bishop Treanor explained that the Irish Synodal Pathway is awakening within the Church a vibrant and vital involvement, both towards an individual and collective responsibility, for making the essential Good News available to the people of our own time.

Fr Anthony Alexander, Parish Priest of Ardkeen, pictured left, with his twin brother Fr Paul Alexander, Parish Priest of St Patrick's Church at Saul, and Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor at the diocesan pilgrimage. Picture by Bill Smyth.

Paula McKeown, director of the Living Church initiative and a member of the Irish Synodal Steering Committee, address the congregation at Saul, providing an update on the work of the Irish Synodal Pathway and outlining the findings of the Synodal Synthesis that emerged from the listening process in the Diocese of Down and Connor.

Bishop Treanor concluded the celebration by encouraging the assembled crowds on Saul Mountain to continue to tell the stories of St Patrick and to keep this memory, tradition and pilgrimage to Saul alive in order to inspire new generations.

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Faith Matters