Kildare Ministries Pilgrimage to Ireland, 19 September to 3 October 2015
Profound experiences are difficult to describe and difficult to express in language and imagery that communicate the depth and breadth of the journey. The inaugural Kildare Ministries pilgrimage was one of those experiences. It captured the hearts and imaginations of twenty-three pilgrims as they travelled through Ireland on 19 September – 3 October 2015. On most days we felt that we were gifted with a small piece of the rich and vibrant Celtic story essential in understanding who the Irish people are and in appreciating their own distinct expression of Christianity which has maintained its connections to ancient Ireland and the Irish landscape.
The traditional heritage stories unfolded in three stages. Firstly, we visited the West of Ireland and explored the early Christian world in Clonmacnoise and Inis Mor. Often wet and windy we learned about monastic civilisations established around the sixth century, visited the ruins of cathedrals and towers and read the ancient history deeply and skilfully engraved in the high crosses. The more adventurous amongst us joined millions of pilgrims before them to climb the holiest mountain in Ireland, Croagh Patrick and to pay homage to St Patrick and while others visited the rich valley beneath.
Many enjoyed the days where we traced the steps of Nano Nagle visiting her home town of Ballygriffin as well as the places where her legacy lives on in Cork. Inspirational speakers from the Lantern Community Project moved some to tears as they generously shared their life stories. We met Johnny whom we will never forget! “An open hand and a kind word that is what spirituality is really about” is how Johnny spoke of his encounters with God. Remarkable coming from a man so desperate after losing everything that ever meant anything to him, found Nano’s voice to guide and protect him as he pieced his life together over eight years.
Tullow, Paddock and Kildare engulfed us in the mystical and ethereal worlds of St Brigid and the visionary leadership of Daniel Delany. Solas Bhride and St Brigid’s garden were spiritual places which provided wonderful environments where we could explore the earthly and heavenly connections through poetry, sculpture and exquisite gardens.
Indeed Celtic spirituality has something to say to us today and we were not surprised to learn that there is a renewed interest in drawing from this ancient spirituality to help us respond to current issues around our environment and caring for our earth; life’s cycles expressed through the seasons and the influence of the cosmos to nurture our heart and soul.
The symbolic planting of the sapling oak tree by the three Trustees at Solas Bhride for the hope and prosperity of Kildare Ministries began to focus our attention on what we are called to do and be in our world and for our Church today. We began to contemplate questions about our relevance and mission. Kildare Ministries is more than a governance structure for our schools and community works. More importantly, it is about the people within it who make up the communities and how they give expression to their faith that will become the hallmarks of Kildare Ministries. Pilgrims began to express a desire to bring our traditions and our founders to life not through passively honouring their stories but in responding actively to our needs in the here and now. It was a perfect note to end on: twenty-three pilgrims searching and questioning their role in the Church today and how best to give a voice to the marginalised!
No matter from which perspective one might view it, the pilgrimage was a great success. We discovered the winning formula! The food, accommodation and travel were all faultless. The fifteen guest speakers were all relevant, dynamic, interesting and challenging. The warm and bountiful hospitality of the Presentation and Brigidine Sisters left us feeling cared for and most welcomed. The organisation was excellent and the days were full and engaging. The liturgies, masses and reflective moments were beautifully crafted and deeply thought out. But the most important secret ingredient was the group itself. The pilgrims were exceptional in their contribution and co-operation; in their support of each other and their commitment to the programme; in their sense of fun and their moments of deep prayer, reflection and sharing. God was amongst us and she surprised us each day.