Fr Ciaran Blake, C C, Canon Antony King, Archbishop Eamon Neary and Fr John O’Gorman celebrating Mas in the Church of the Assumption, Athenry Nov. 2003

Recently, I was paging through the History of the Archdiocese. This book, published before Easter is a beautiful presentation of the faith-story of our ancestors. Monastic ruins, Holy Wells, and Mass Rocks speak to us of our Christian roots.

The splendid photography of parish churches and historic sites are interwoven into a rich and varied tapestry of a Christian tradition in the west of Ireland which we have inherited over the centuries.

Places as far apart, as Teampall Beanain in Aran, Tobar Chronain in Aughamore; St. Feichin’s Well in Omey Island and Lady’s Well in Athenry and in between, St. Patrick is claimed by local tradition in at least twenty parishes throughout the diocese.

So many other settings are honouring various saints and shrines of devotion to Our Lady. Above and beyond the local, Croagh Patrick and Knock embrace pilgrims from all over the world.

Each year on special days, the link of continuity with the faith-story of the generations is kept alive. People gather in faith and in prayer as they stand in gratitude on the shoulders of the past, they place their confidence in God and his Mother with their Patron Saint and entrust the future to their care and protection. August 15th marks this special day in Athenry each year

Pilgrim People

One of the things that struck me as I turned the pages was how the theme of pilgrimage keeps a strong link of continuity marking our Christian tradition down to the present time. Pilgrim People is a very rich and beautiful image of Church. Throughout the Liturgy, each year, we are constantly reminded that God is always calling us onwards on our pilgrim path. We travel in faith as we make our way out of the past and into a future that we cannot see. But we travel with trust and with confidence because we know that God never abandons his people. We believe that He is faithful to His promise and His Spirit is always with us to guide and inspire us as we journey onwards.

What nurtures our spirits?

What keeps us going, on our pilgrim path? What can satisfy the deep desire in our hearts? What will nurture our spirits and give us the courage to cope and face the future? It is in the Eucharist we find the food for pilgrims, the nourishment that will hold us up and hold us together on our journey.

The Altar of the World.

Pope John Paul in one of his last letters reflecting on this Year of the Eucharist, talks about every Mass having what he describes as “a universal and cosmic dimension”. He uses a beautiful image – “the altar of the world” he says “… because even when the Eucharist is celebrated on a humble altar, it is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world …It unites heaven and earth …It embraces and permeates all creation…” Could you imagine – A Mass-rock, like the one in Coldwood suspended over the world, and the worship and praise of all people embracing all creation being gathered and raised by the power of the Risen Lord as the gift of humanity to the Father in heaven. We are all a living part of all that prayer.

What do we bring to Sunday Mass?

When we gather for Sunday Mass no matter where we come from, we are representative of a wider world and we carry and place on the altar here the “work of human hands” from Coldwood, Coshla, Cormacoo, Cudoo, and all the other places of our Parish. We bring ourselves and all we do from the kitchens and offices, the farms and factories and the homes and families of our neighbourhood to the Altar of God.

Think of all the human energy, the power of goodness, the time, skills and talents of all who enliven our Parish, the creativity that arises from minds and hearts, all our gifts, we place around the bread that rests on the altar. Isn’t it all of that you bring as your gift to your Parish Mass in Athenry and Newcastle? And into the chalice is poured the anxiety and pain, the loneliness and suffering we carry within us to our Mass.

We bring with us all that rises up from people in hospitals and nursing homes, elderly people living in isolation, the love and compassion of great neighbours and carers – all to become our “spiritual drink” So what is transformed into the body of Christ, is “fruit of the earth and work of human hands”. Isn’t it all your gift that you bring to the celebration of this Eucharist?

What do you carry away from your Sunday Mass?

That beautiful Easter Story about the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is the theme of the Pope’s letter. He invites us to reflect on the two disciples as they returned back from Emmaus to Jerusalem. Think of the change, the enormous transformation that had happened. They had come down-hearted, listless and dejected. They met the Stranger on the road. He listened to them and “explained the Scriptures to them. “Stay with us for it is nearly evening” … And then it happened! They recognised Jesus in the “breaking of bread” And then, everything changed!

There was no staying or waiting around, they hit back to Jerusalem. What a contrast in their mood, in their stride as they retraced their steps to tell the story to the disciples. It was the same road, but everything had changed. “Hearts burning within them, their eyes were opened and they saw in a new way. A surge of fresh enthusiasm was flowing through them. The light of the Risen Lord had shone in their minds and hearts. They were touched by his power and they were travelling with new energy to go and tell the good news. Our Sunday Mass is our Emmaus.

We receive the “Mystery of Light”

The Eucharist, we receive, it is the same Risen Lord. This is the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The food that draws the light and love of the Risen Lord into the chamber of our souls. We receive the “mystery of light” to nourish the hungers in the depths of our spirits – for meaning, for love, for hope and the strength to cope with all that will unfold in the days to come.

We are sent on a Mission

The Bread that is broken to deepen our intimacy with Jesus draws us into friendship with one another as companions as we share the same food. “Because there is one bread”, St. Paul tells us “We who are many are one body, for we all share in the one bread” 1 Cor. 10-17. We do not travel in isolation; we lean on one another. We draw strength and courage from each other as pilgrims on the journey. The Spirit of God will speak to us through one another, encouraging us to face our situation and see people around us in a new way when we gather to celebrate our Sunday Mass.

Like the two disciples, the Eucharist sends us back again on the journey we came, with fresh hope in our hearts and with the assurance that He is with us and “not to be afraid”. We are sent on a mission, a mission to encourage one another as we journey together.

A mission that is summed up in the beautiful words of a Psalm … “Today, as long as this today lasts, keep encouraging one another …

True light, an old Galway hooker tied up at Kinvara Pier

Tugging the ropes with the flowing morning tide

The stern dancing a jig, eager to sail out on Galway Bay.

Dennis strides with grey tweed pants and polo-neck Aran sweater

As the flagged quay echo the ring of his nailed boots.

He moves through the sleepy village welcomed by a dog.

 

Tall and bronzed, a broad framed man with greying hair

Like many artists and dreamers attracted to this place

Under harvest moon he sailed and settled in the red cottage

Galvins are Cork people with a melodic southern lilt

But unlike the others who settled here he had a different way

He moved among us like one of our own, returned.

 

Large mugs of coffee he drank at the pier bar

Laughed with us at our “saying” and pondered on

Stories that were old and strange and they weighed on us.

Something behind his bright eyes searched gently inside

Where our fears and frail ways were held in trust

He listened and with words few and mild, we felt understood

 

Poet, Philosopher, Fisherman, Dreamer, Carver of bog oak

His wonder at dark crevases in trees buried for a thousand years

That same beauty he saw in us and helped us to discover for ourselves

When we go our way and our boats plough different oceans

The mackerel we cooked at dawn and ate with brown bread

Will hold images of our journey forever rising above the horizon.

Last February, when I arrived in New Mexico on sabbatical, I rang Msgr. Paddy Higgins in Corpus Christi. Straight away words came loud and clear from him. “l want to invite you to my Golden Jubilee and we will all gather on Low Sunday after Easter. I want no excuse, you must be there!”

I needed no persuasion and immediately booked my ticket. It was an occasion that I was looking forward to for many reasons. I had been to Corpus Christi during the Summer of 1967 and ’68 doing supply for priests to allow them get home on holiday. It would be an opportunity to see all the changes that had happened over the years and to renew links with old friends and the special memories I had of the welcome and hospitality of Fr. Paddy and his colleagues.

However, my visit to Corpus Christi was for a different kind of celebration. I was there for his Funeral Mass on the Thursday of Easter Week.

Since Good Friday and all that Thursday afternoon, people were gathering, not merely from the seven parishes where he worked but from the diocese and all over Texas to pray at his coffin. People representing all the diocesan organisations kept vigil in a Guard of Honour and ninety three priests gathered to celebrate his funeral Mass with Bishop Edmond Carmody in a crowded Cathedral.

It was a wonderful tribute to the man from Castle Lambert who was ordained to the priesthood on June 6th, 1954 in St. Peter’s College in Wexford and gave fifty years of service to God and to the people of South Texas. I felt a deep sadness at the death of an old friend.

But also, there was a sense of pride in the respect, the bonds with people and the enormous contribution to the Church in his fifty years as a priest. I came away from Corpus Christi with deep impressions – the tears in the eyes of so many people as the hearse moved away on the journey to San Antonio and the flight home on the following day – told the stories of people who had been inspired by the witness of his life and the various ways they were touched by a gentle and gracious man.

Deep down, I was asking who will replace him and all the Irish sisters and priests gathered for his funeral Mass? What had drawn him to this place so far away from home? What call did he answer?

When I look at the records and find that in 1979, a total of 136 – 90 sisters, 9 brothers and 37 priests from the parish of Athenry were working throughout the world and here at home, isn’t hard not to be impressed by that contribution to the spread of the Gospel? What was the vision that moved them?

I write this article during the week leading into Mission Sunday. And when I look down the list of names of the 70 who are still alive in different parts of the world, it is very obvious that their vision was not parochial but expanded far beyond boundaries that hem us in between the rivers and walls in this parish from Coldwood to Cuddoo and Coshla to Cormacoo.

On August 8th, they gathered again this year, 30 sisters and priests to meet together for the Re-Union Mass and later for lunch at the Newpark Hotel. A pleasant opportunity to meet with their families and to keep in touch with parishioners and old friends. They speak a clear message that the Church we belong to is a missionary church. The Missions are not an optional extra or something on the fringe. Of its very nature, the Church we belong to is powered by the Spirit, it is expansive, forever reaching out to spread the Good News. To be missionary minded is at the heart of being a Christian.

Today the missionary challenge is as great here at home as it is in any part of the world. Every parish is called to be missionary in reaching out to people who have become inactive in the living of their faith and no longer worship and many have lost heart and hope because of the dark days of Church in recent years. That remains a challenge for all of us to listen to their story with compassion and sensitivity. But also to realise that living our faith today also calls us to make them aware that they are missed and our collective worship needs their presence. Above all to have the encouraging word and to invite them to join our company and assure them that they are welcome and that no matter how long they are away, they can always come home. And they can always start by coming to Mass and becoming a part of the faith community of the parish. It is your gentle word that could make all the difference.

There is a growing concern about the lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our diocese. What is the Holy Spirit saying to all of us at this time? At present, there are just two students studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Tuam. That has serious implications for priests and people and various church services in the coming years. In Corpus Christi, the Bishop has twenty priests, who have recently come from India, working in the diocese and as you would expect they are struggling with language and culture. Other dioceses abroad have targeted third level colleges and most of the young people taking up the challenge are coming in their late twenties and onwards. Personally, that is the road I would favour while not neglecting the opportunity to sow the seeds with second level students and also to encourage them to give a number of years overseas and use their talents and skills in the developing countries.

The challenge for every parish is to involve the leadership of the people in parish life to take on responsibilities in various ministries and work with their local priest in promoting the kingdom of God.

Finally, it is my deepest conviction that a vocation to the priesthood and religious life, no matter what stage in life it is taken up, rises from the inspiration and example of the Christian home. The most important area of mission territory today is in the family home. It depends so much on what is going on in the circle that surrounds the hearts of parents and the atmosphere and attitudes of the family.

My appeal is that if you feel even the most modest nudge, why not take the time to talk to someone, a friend or a priest or others in religion. Christ needs your energy, enthusiasm and idealism in the service of the Gospel in some part of the world and in particular here in our diocese at the present time. He is counting on your generosity.

This article is based on Canon King’s reflective sabbatical!

Athenry Parish Map

The parish of Athenry embraces all that lies between Coshla and Cormacoo, Coldwood and Cudoo – the fields and the woods, the heritage and holy places, and all the natural beauty of the countryside but it is the people that make the difference. People bring their energy and vitality, gifts and talents to enrich life and bring inspiration and challenge. All the more so, since the number of homes have more than doubled in the past ten years. How can we draw upon and draw together all that we can bring to one another at this time?

“Let us go forward in hope. The new millennium is opening up before the church like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture relying on the help of Christ”. With these encouraging words Pope John Paul 11, in his letter at the close of the Jubilee Year, invites us to respond to the challenge of bringing the gospel to the world of the twenty-first century.

The challenge is that of trying to live our lives following the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. Like the call of Jesus to Peter when he came ashore and had caught nothing, to “launch out into the deep”. When they did so they caught a great number of fish The Pope has invited us who are privileged to live at this time to have the courage to face the future with fresh confidence and with the assurance that Jesus Christ is with us on our journey. We do not travel alone and we are invited to travel together.

“Where there is no vision the people perish” Proverbs. There are priorities in setting out a vision for the future.

One of the key ideas in the Pope’s letter is that all pastoral renewal has to be built on holiness – that is on knowing Jesus better and being more closely united with him.

He speaks of the need to promote what he calls a ‘spiritually of communion’ — that each person is made in the image of God; to see the face of God in one another; to share their joys and sufferings; to sense their desires and needs; to make room for one another and build a sense of belonging.

To respond to the need of people is at the heart of the gospel. ”I was hungry and you gave me food to eat, sick and you visited me… ”

To nurture a ‘contemplative spirit’. What we do must be rooted in reflection and prayer, patience and listening to one another.

I wish to thank the Pastoral Council for taking on the initiative of the Listening Survey, the facilitators and all the people who responded in the various groups. In presenting this report and making it available, we are building on a good foundation, and l hope that it will receive a positive and active response.

l thank Margaret Seery, the Chairperson for co-ordinating this venture.

Coming to the end of my first week in February here in Sangre de Cristo, I thought it would be of interest to put pen to paper and tell you a bit about the place and some first impressions. The name means Blood of Christ.

Where is this place, you may wonder? The Centre is located about twelve miles north of Sante Fe (Holy Faith) in the state of New Mexico.

It is 7100 feet above sea-level in mountains which form the foothills of the Rockies. It is a bracing climate and almost constant sunshine and clear air. They all complain of the cold, but being used to our own climate, it does not bother me. You can see for miles and miles, mountains and scrub land and small brown trees. Everywhere is brown and bare in a setting that is so hauntingly wild and beautiful.

Coming here by bus from the airport in Albuquerque last Monday, a journey of an hour and a half, there was not a sight of a cow or sheep anywhere. No grass worth talking about. At present the mountains are covered with snow which falls regularly and there has been about six inches during the week. The air is very light and for the first few days, one could feel a bit dizzy and we were advised to rest regularly

There are thirty in our group – Six priests, of which l am the only Irish born and working in Ireland, seven brothers, and seventeen sisters. Eleven nationalities are represented – from Australia to Brazil, Singapore to Poland and from around the States. There is a broad variety of culture and experience. Gradually, we are getting to know one another and listening to each other about where we came from and what we were doing.

My next-door neighbour here is Ed McLaughlin, a Chicago priest with relatives in Castlebar. He is full of stories and good humour and we enjoy telling tall yarns. There is a great spirit in the place and even though l had a lot of fears beforehand about this venture, I am really delighted that l came. I am grateful to a few friends who kept encouraging me. They told me that the parish would improve by my leaving it!

This Centre was founded in 1962 by the De La Salle Christian Brothers and it provides a sabbatical programme for Catholic men and women, religious and priests, in their middle years. Over the last forty years, over 2,500 people have attended here! The broad thrust of the programme is to help participants in understanding themselves as Christian leaders in a society and a church that is undergoing a huge cultural changer

It provides the opportunity to reflect on your work and experience over the years and how at your season in life, you can nurture your faith and values to serve people in the future. Along with lectures, theology, psychology, spirituality and social awareness and other academic interests, there is a lot of reflection on life experience and group-work. There is a big emphasis on promoting a genuine community spirit inviting everyone to play their part. Each weekday morning there is a short housework period with various groups taking turns to wash up and the usual practical chores. Also for residents with special talents, they will find an outlet in bits of maintenance and clerical work.

The programme lasts for around three months. But it is not all work! The climate around this area is excellent for walking, hiking, and mountain climbing. On Sunday afternoon, a group of us climbed into the mountains on a two-hour trek. It was really exhilarating. The Centre is in a secluded setting and there is plenty of time for prayer, reflection, reading and other interests. I see from the programme, that there are times set aside for community outings to places of historical and cultural interest. There is the opportunity to make a visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays to Santa Fe — a city noted for galleries, music and theatre. James Galway is coming next month and a play by Brian Friel is being promoted as well.

The whole area is steeped in the Indian and Spanish culture, and I hope we will have an opportunity to visit an Indian Pueblo for one of their festivals.

My first impression on a visit to Santa Fe on last Wednesday was the friendliness of the people – they smile and greet you and really go out of their way to help you in the shops or giving directions. They make you feel welcome. I am really grateful to be here and to the people of the parish and to my two colleagues for holding the fort. I intend to make the most of it and enjoy it. – Canon Tony King, P.P. Athenry

In the Summer Edition 2002 of the Athenry Journal, l was reflecting on the changes that have been happening over the past forty years and the development of our understanding of Church; the restoration of various ministries in the Church and how the quality of our lives as committed Christians will play such a vital role in the church of the future.

Here, in Athenry, the role of the parish is crucial for the faith and how strong vibrant communities with people and priests working together will play such an important role in the church of the new century.

The permanent diaconate

Some months ago, the Irish Catholic Bishops made a decision to introduce married deacons into lrish Church life and shortly I feel sure that plans will be drawn up for training and formation. While this is new to Ireland, it is very common in parishes in the United States and around the world. When l was ordained in 1963, l received the diaconate at the beginning of my final year — it was a prelude to ordination to priesthood. But in fact, the Second Vatican Council has restored the diaconate as a “proper and permanent rank in the hierarchy”. This means that in a few years there will be ordained deacons, probably married men, working in parishes, who will be able to carry out all priestly functions with the exception of celebrating Mass and hearing Confessions. ln practise, this will mean that deacons will baptise children, officiate at weddings, receive funerals, preach at Masses, lead prayer groups, act as chaplains and carry out various administrative tasks. As vocations to the priesthood continue to drop, it is very likely that many of the functions, at present carried out by priests will, now be, the responsibility of deacons.

Gradual change

The Catholic Church is a worldwide organisation and it is only natural like all huge institutions it finds it difficult to embrace change. Just think how difficult any of us find it to change patterns in our own attitudes and life-style. The basic instinct is to conserve, and change is only permitted where there really is no alternative to make the change. So, change is introduced gradually and piecemeal. It comes slowly, bit-by-bit and low key and people slowly adapt and adjust and emerge coping with everything in a very different way.

Married priests

Recently, on a visit to London, l talked, with priests there, about the numbers of Anglican clergy who became Roman Catholic priests and began to work in parishes in England. The official position at the time was that this was an extraordinary situation, with little effect on church life. But as those married priests began to work in parishes, the normality of a married clergy in the Catholic Church is now beginning to be taken as part of life and taken for granted.

The decision in the future to ordain married men to priesthood which everyday looks inevitable and more likely, will not seem as dramatic as it might have been viewed twenty years ago. In the end, it comes down to this; are Pobal Dé to be denied the opportunity of Sunday Mass and the nourishment of the Eucharist because we, as Church do not have the courage to acknowledge the promptings of the Holy Spirit?

Deacons

The same could happen with married deacons. If a married deacon can baptise his own child or officiate at his daughter’s wedding or his brother’s funeral, is it not a likely happening in the future that he will also celebrate Mass? And if there are men deacons, when will there be women deacons?

In the letter to the Romans, Paul refers to Phoebe as deaconess of the church at Cenchreae and deaconesses were part of the early church.

At present, the issue of the ordination of women seems to face some theological difficulties, but then the 2002Holy Spirit is at work and is continually calling on all of us to reflect and pray and be open to where God is calling us on our future journey.

People of hope

All I can say is that looking back on nearly forty years of my limited experience of priesthood and all the changes that have taken place, who knows where it will all lead to in the Church in Athenry in 2025. We must be people of hope and despite all that has been happening in recent times, it is a good time to be alive.

I offer these few thoughts sure in the knowledge that the future is not a place to be feared but a place full of hope. We move into the unknown confident that the Holy Spirit is bringing us to a place which only God can have imagined, because God has plans for us — plans for peace and not disaster in a future full of hope.

Canon Tony King, is Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Parish, Athenry.

Stain Glass window from Newcastle Church – Photo by Cáit Curran

A request from Gerry Ahern to write an article on the challenges facing the Catholic Church in Ireland in the twenty-first century and how people and priests can meet those challenges poses a daunting task. It has set me thinking and wondering. Recently I was talking with a group of classmates about the changes that have taken place since we were ordained priests in 1963 — forty years ago next June. On one thing we were all agreed, we were not prepared for the world that we faced and we could not imagine in our wildest dreams that we would be reading the breviary and celebrating Mass in English within a few short years!

Pace of change

l know it is a cliché but the pace of change has been enormous and in particular in the past ten years. All we can be sure of now is that everything will keep changing. l know that some people are frightened by all that they see happening around them. Many would like to circle the wagons and try to ignore it all as if we can keep change at a distance. Other people enjoy change and feel challenged by it and all the varying patterns in life today. While there are many features of life that are difficult to cope with the impact of drugs and the abuse of alcohol, the number of suicides that is greater now than the number of people killed on the roads and the heart-break that has affected every parish in the country, I still believe that it is a great time to be alive. I think if we are to be honest with ourselves there were many things that were not good in what we often refer to as ‘the good old times’. And I constantly remind myself that God loves all of us, the people of our times no less than any generation before us. His Spirit is guiding us into a future that will be different but it will be all part of God’s plan for Pobal Dé.

A changing church

So, like it or not, change is certainly all around us — not least in our religion and Church. l was looking at Meitheal 2002 list of all the various ministries that were unheard of when I was ordained a priest – Readers, Ministers of the Eucharist, Basket Collectors, Baptism Team, Altar Society, Family Programme – to mention a few. The whole range of involvement by people in church and community not to mind a Pastoral Council or Parish Finance Committee! I celebrated my first Mass in Latin and everything continued in the same pattern as it did for hundreds of years. But then the Vatican Council called the church to reflect on its mission to the world and so many changes and adjustments began to take place. The people of my generation experienced all that and it was not easy for many to cope in the beginning. The 196Os were times of enormous change not merely in the Church but in the world of the time.

Facing the future with confidence

What of the future? I believe what happens in parish is vital. If it does not happen in the parish it does not happen at all. The Lord works through people and we lean on one another for support to travel onwards. On a Sunday afternoon recently, I sat in with a group of about fifty people in the Canton Hall. We were led by a visiting team and we prayed together and reflected on the command that Jesus gave to his disciples. We recognised that it is the same Lord who is calling us to be his disciples today and sending us out to bring the “good news” to people around us.

That is the work of evangelisation.

That we are a people called and chosen and each one of us has a mission to bear witness to that truth in our lives. How we go about this task of our mission in our parish — that is the challenge. The whole purpose of the church is to evangelise and to find new ways to bring the truth and hope of that message to a new generation.

So the renewal of parish is at the heart of it all. That is why prayer is the power that moves us to be renewed. People who pray, homes who pray together are the lights along the shore battered by the stormy seas of our times. In the end of the day, evangelisation is about one heart touching another heart and finding hope.

The parish is the place

A parish must be a place where people can discover a sense of belonging and a communion also with one another. Privacy and individualism ultimately leads to isolation and we have all seen that the end of that road is a desperate loneliness. We all desire to know our neighbours and to be known by them in return. That is essential for any kind of health and wholeness and any sort of growth in any community. A parish is a network of communities. To achieve this, we would have to get to know one another in a new way. I do not mean the knowing which comes from belonging to a club or organisation, important as that is in any community, but the knowing that comes from a deeper search and reflecting together — by reading and sharing on God’s Word in all the rich variety of how the Spirit speaks in our hearts and how we share our insights with one another in small gatherings.

For the faith to survive in the world of the 2lst century, Catholics will need to be contemplative people and be living their faith with hope and compassion in the market place of a secular world. The driving force for this renewal will come from the people and it will come through the parish and from the ground up. The priest in a parish will have a role — to nurture, encourage, guide and support — but it will not be a priest-led-recovery but a people- led-recovery and it will come through the parish where people and priest work together.

Otherwise, I believe in twenty-five years from now, the crows will be nesting in many churches around the country.

Tradition tells the story that a Marian apparition took place on 15th August I249 after the battle of Athenry. An account in the Annals of Iar Chonnacht record that a battle took place. The Normans within the town requested the Irish not to attack and to honour the feast-day. However, the Irish made an attack and were defeated.

In this vicinity of Lady’s Well, tradition preserves for us the legend that Our Lady appeared to a wounded soldier as he was being carried away from the battle-field. It is also very likely that the new priory built in Athenry by the Dominicans in 1241 promoted the Marian devotion.

Lady’s Well is a very popular place of pilgrimage throughout the year. The main pilgrimage takes place on August 15th and for the past 750 years people gather from Athenry parish and the surrounding areas agus Muintir na Gaeltachta freisin. Many return home on holidays to meet at ‘The Well’, to be with their families and to keep contact with their friends.

The waters of the Well remind us that our pilgrim journey begins at Baptism. The tree that shadows the setting is a symbol of the Christian call to grow in holiness by raising our hearts to God and reaching out our hands to care for people.

The Celtic Pieta

It dates from the 14th century and is set in the outer wall of the Well. The Mother holds the body of the dead Christ – not cradled in her arms as in the continental style – but in an almost upright position against her body. Signs of considerable damage are due to erosion and the tradition that it was defaced by Cromwellian soldiers

The Headache Stone

This large rectangular stone with the cavity in the centre was a socket for a medieval cross. There is a strong tradition of personal healing associated with this stone.

The Calvary

In 1932, the year of the Eucharistic Congress, the Calvary was erected.

The Grotto

It was put in place in 1954 to mark the Marian Year.

The Millennium Park

To mark Jubilee 2000, the Millennium Park was developed. This imaginative design is in the form of a Celtic Cross. The tradition of the Celtic Cross – the Cross placed against the sun – is a unique symbol of the harmonious tradition from pagan worship to Christianity in Ireland. This Park leading into Lady’s Well is a place of reflection and peace.

As we begin a new century, a time of change and transition, people will find in this beautiful setting a place of rest and harmony to reflect on our Christian heritage and find the energy to face the future with confidence.

The Sculpture

This 81” high Sculpture in Kilkenny limestone is the centre-piece of the Millennium Park. It embraces a broad symbolism – the tradition of Our Lady and the soldier after the Battle of Athenry. Here too, we find the image of RETURN and ATONEMENT. The ‘Home-coming of someone estranged from family and community, to give expression to the desire for forgiveness, confirmation and unity.

Conversely, the Sculpture might also be seen as a DEPARTURE, a commission to go forth and evangelise in the great Irish tradition of mission. A reminder of the people, priests and religious who left the parish down the centuries bringing with them their culture and faith. A missionary image and a tribute to the Irish Diaspora; or simply to suggest the beginning of a journey, appropriate at the start of the new millennium. A call to make a fresh beginning, full of hope.

At another level, the Sculpture can be viewed simply as an image of human (romantic) LOVE and through this a reference to St. Paul’s mystical marriage of Christ and his Bride, the Church.

The Lady’s Well Millennium Park and Sculpture were officially opened and blessed on August 15th 1999. Lady’s Well Committee and helpers are a voluntary group of parishioners who take care of this special place.

This year has seen further work being done with the erection of a fence all around at the back of the Grotto and also along by the stream. Eight trees are also being planted by the wall near the main road. The committee are in the process of having tar and chips put on the car park and on some other areas.

Scripted by Canon Tony King P.P., Athenry

On Tuesday evening, September 11th, like many of you, I was watching TV. The backdrop on every bulletin was that horrific scene. One of the Twin Towers blazing and the plane crashing into the other; the horror in people’s faces. Stunned by what was happening before my eyes as if it were down the road, I felt our world had become a global village, and I was asking myself, is this real? And that empty feeling was filling with all kinds of emotions of shock and anxiety and fear, and I felt so totally vulnerable in a fragile world.

Around 6 o’clock, I got a call from a nephew of mine in London, just gone 17 years, got his A Levels and is preparing to do Law. We had a long chat about all that was going on, and then he said to me, gently but with enormous sincerity “Fr. Tony, where is God in all of this? Write and tell me.” And that is the question I’ve been grappling with over the last two days. And this is the reply I sent to him. Dear Stephen (He is called Stephen after my Father, God rest him)

Your question to me on the phone, has been hanging over everything that we have seen and heard over the last few days. I feel many young people of your generation are asking the same question. Indeed, I’m doing so myself. So, these few thoughts I offer is my own effort to try and make some sense of it all … Where is God in all of this?

It is at the heart of our Christian faith that God is perfectly good. Indeed, another name for God is goodness. And since God is perfectly good, He cannot be the direct cause of evil in our world. To do something evil would be a total contradiction.

But then we come to “problem of evil”. We see physical evil when there is an earthquake which God permits as a matter of course in our world, where the earth surface cracks and we saw what happened in San Francisco a few years ago. He does not cause it but He does permit it. We have seen what moral evil has caused on Tuesday afternoon where evil men caused such horrendous suffering and destruction. Now you could say to me, why didn’t God prevent that?

Here we come to “free will”. It is a mark of the unique dignity of the human person that we have free will. We can make choices — to do good or do evil. And the extraordinary thing about God – this great gift to us – is that He respects the way that you and I use our freedom.

I hope that you are still with me! The greatest moral evil that has ever happened – was on Calvary. Here on the Cross you had the murder of God’s Son caused by the sins of people – the clash on the Cross of the power of evil and the power of good. The greater power of goodness has won the victory over sin and evil in the death and resurrection of Jesus. You and I and every Christian share in that victory. It is his spirit that gives us the power to do good.

Now where do we go from here? Stephen – Nobody can condone the terrible deeds of those evil men or the people who put them up to it. Justice must be done but innocent people should not be afflicted with more suffering. Statesmen take time and take the long-term view.

You know that it is a core truth of our Christian faith – “that in everything God works for good for those who love Him”. Strange as it may seem to you, I believe that a power of good will come from this horrendous tragedy. I have never seen such an outpouring of concern and care, prayer and reflection amongst so many people. Here, God is at work. The Spirit is disturbing us to reflect on the choices that we make and how we use our freedom.

We had a packed church for a Memorial Mass here on Friday. It was a “still day” with everyplace closed down. People wanted to come close together for support and strength. And people are thinking deep thoughts and asking questions about what is happening in our world that causes such terrible evil.

Many people are questioning the way we act and see life and what values are important. There is a huge awakening taking place in the minds and hearts of people. Our attitudes and mind-set are under scrutiny. It is here that God’s Spirit is at work challenging us to look at our world and the implications of what we do.

Could I end with this? Let us turn the picture around. Stephen, what breeds a terrorist? If you were living in the Turkana Desert in Kenya with your camel, living on a bowl of rice a day and having a piece of goat-meat once a month, how would you or I look on those Twin Towers crumbling in New York – or if the same were to happen in the Canary Warf in London or in the Financial Services here in Dublin? Let’s face it! The contrast between luxury and poverty, hunger and waste, where millions of people have no voice, no hope for the future and feel they do not matter – that I believe is the breeding ground for the terrorist.

And the biggest divide of all is not between the Third World and the West, rich and poor – the biggest divide of all is in the human heart. When cornfields are set on fire, and fertile land is set aside, and the best of Irish beef is destroyed – how would we argue with our friend in Turkana if he accused you and me of being the terrorists of Mother Earth? “I was hungry and you did not give me food… “Jesus said. “As long as you did not give to these the least of my people, you did not give it to me”.

Think it over and write to me. Kindest regards – your favourite eldest uncle – Tony.

Canon T. King P.P.

In every parish, some places are special.  They call us back.  They are surrounded with all kinds of memories.  In my experience of the parishes where 1 have worked as a priest over the past thirty years, two places stand out.  The Garland Friday pilgrimage on the Croagh Patrick on the last Friday of July prior to the National Pilgrimage stays with me in a memorable way.

The early morning climb and the rest halfway up the mountain on a small plateau always stands out in that panoramic setting.  Looking out over Clew Bay, the islands, the rising sun lifting the fog over Westport and to watch the smoke beginning to rise from the homes in Murrisk.  Down below the winding path tells the stories of all the pilgrims who have made the climb for fifteen hundred years.  Behind you lies the towering summit of the Reek, nature’s great cathedral of the West, calling you onwards.  Just to sit there and allow your thoughts to flow and the imagination to wander.  The atmosphere of that setting soaks into you and fills the empty places in the soul.

Since coming to Athenry, Lady’s Well has taken on that special sense of place for me.  To walk around in the quietness of the early morning and look into the waters of the Well.  You are forced to think of the thousands who have come here for reflection and peace.  Footprints in prayer for over 700 years in this special place.

One of my favourite images of Church is pilgrim people.  God is calling us onwards on our faith-journey.  We travel together, at times lean on each other for support and experience hospitality and friendship along the way.  But there is also the inward journey.  Looking into the Well, it calls you to look deep into yourself Here we stand in our time on the shoulders of generations who have gone before us.

So many who came here are laid to rest thousands of miles from home.  And their challenge to us is to cherish and live the faith and values we have received.  To be sure, it is a place of comfort, but it also a place where we have to face our own truth and listen to the challenge.  Are we handing on or just hanging on?

The Well speaks about all that.  Each year, it becomes the ‘gathering place for thousands as they come home for Lady Day and meet old friends at Mass in the Well.  This coming together in this place has deep roots not merely for the people of the parish but for so many people in the surrounding areas.

Symbols always mark our stories.  The Well is a powerful one.  Few parishes have a place so rich in tradition, faith and culture.  The setting is such peaceful environs calls us to be in touch with deep roots.  The Calvary marks the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and the Grotto was built to mark the Marian Year of 1954.  From information to-date, the Grotto was built by Joe Maloney of Old Church St., and Battie Cunniffe, Park.  Paddy Dempsey, Dunsandle, supplied the stones for the inside section.  Willie Burke, Old Church St., brought the stones for the front of the Grotto from Cartymore.  Bertie Powell, the local engineer, presented the Statue of Our Lady and Willie Higgins presented the statue of St. Bernadette (any further information and names of people involved would be welcome).  Major development work was carried out in 1988 by the Lady’s Well committee.

The Millennium Park development adjacent to the Well is making steady progress.  Already it’s design and lay-out has drawn the interest of other groups around they country who are planning to do something significant in their own parish to mark the year 2000.  The Sculpture planned as a centre-piece in the park will carry the rich tradition of faith and culture into the next century.  In an artistic and creative way, the sculpture will hold together a broad symbolism – the tradition of Our Lady and the soldier after the Battle of Athenry, August 15th. 1249.

Here also is the image of ‘Home-Coming’ the welcome home of the wanderer, the person who has become estranged from family or community to experience the forgiveness and healing of all that is broken in life.  The embrace of reconciliation.  Surely, a very powerful message in harmony with all that we are searching for in our own country at the present time.

‘Departure’ – is also another image that the Sculpture carries.  Echoes of all the people who have left our parish down through the years and they brought with them their faith, their culture and skills and reared their families ten thousand miles from home.  A missionary image of their fidelity and what they passed on to their families and the enormous contribution of the Irish Diaspora around the world.  It marks as well, the work and witness of sisters, priests and brothers, over eighty of them still bearing witness to the Gospel in different parts of the globe.

But for all of us, this Sculpture and the Millennium Park with it’s imaginative design incorporating a celtic cross, marks the beginning of a new journey.  What place could be more suitable to mark the Birth of Our Saviour, two thousand years ago than to do it at Lady’s Well?

Lady’s Well Committee would welcome your good-will, interest and financial support to see this project through.  It is an opportunity for all of us, at home and abroad to take ownership of this imaginative venture in our parish.  Contributions to Our Lady’s Well Millennium Park Fund may be sent to any member of the committee.  Tommy Quinn, Chairman, Ballydavid.  Monsie Kennedy, Hon Secretary Swangate, Jimmy Somers, Hon.  Treasurer Swangate.

Our Lady’s Well Millennium Park will be a fitting tribute by the people of our parish to mark our Christian faith and our confidence as we face a new century.  Here something memorable will be created.  We will leave behind us a memorial that future generations will be justly proud of.  This place will mark a new era and build on a great tradition.