Following the pilgrimage to Lough Derg last year with Andrew O ‘Connell, John Quinn, evangelisation officer extended the invitation again this year to the Presentation Family. I was apprehensive doing the journey again twelve months to the day since my previous visit to this sacred place. I remembered sleep deprivation and hunger, not to mention sore feet and sore knees! But I blocked all that from my mind as our Presentation Family of nineteen souls made the short journey from the mainland north of the town of Pettigo across to Station Island.
It was a privilege to be part of a lovely, supportive group of people; we became companions on a journey to one another, looking out for each other, ready to offer a word of encouragement and show a smile when needed. A great camaraderie developed between everyone in our group. I suppose we all realised we were in the same boat. While I found it very challenging at times, other pilgrims pulled me through. Everyone was so friendly and it was nice to hear their stories, where they came from and why they came.
Doing something with others brings us closer together and creates a bond of support. Pope Francis in a text said that the Christian Life is never falling down but always getting up again. Thanks to the hand of God which catches us again. Maybe this has been the experience of this group of pilgrims who over the three days bonded with each other supporting one another when the time of need arose...helping each other as we journeyed together.
We live in an age where ultimate challenges are becoming more a way of life for many, we see people accomplishing amazing, daring and physically challenging things. Pushing the boundaries of our physical and mental strength and rising to the challenge is part of an inner search to take ourselves to a deeper place
The three day challenge this group of passionate pilgrims set themselves was not too dissimilar and it was, as one pilgrim put it, “harder to put into words why I am doing it than it was to have done it!” Another said, “It was just something I wanted to do” and another again said, “I keep hearing the call to return.”
While I was one of a group, I was also one of 120 other pilgrims that came on to the island for the week end. There was a great variety of ages too from young adults to those in their eighties. As a participant on the pilgrimage, I found there is an equality about it–there are no three-star or five-star pilgrims; just barefoot people on a journey together.
I made a brief visit to the island’s small museum. There was a medieval map of Europe and it displayed Lough Derg as the only Irish site identified. It was a place of retreat for those from across the known world through the centuries. Writers such as Heaney, Kavanagh and Alice Taylor among others tried to capture the magic of the island.
On our return back to the mainland, tired and hungry, I forgot the hardships and enjoyed a sense of fulfilment and achievement on completing a challenging pilgrimage. There was one last rendition of Hail Glorious Saint Patrick led by Fr. Owen Mc Eneaney, Prior, before we left the island. We were reluctant to break up such was the friendship that brought us together during the three days. There was an opportunity for some last minute photos and say our ‘good-byes’. A question asked, would this be an annual event? The response was a unanimous ‘yes’ and...invite a friend.
It is an experience of real humility where the material world takes a back seat. It is an opportunity to reflect more deeply on life and come close to God.