The onset of Covid-19 and the subsequent imposition of restrictions on the island of Ireland from March 2020 resulted in the Clogher Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, the Marian Shrine in south-west France being cancelled. This decision did not deter the intending pilgrims and many others from finding new ways of joining together in prayer, in answer to the invitation from Our Blessed Mother through St Bernadette in 1858 for people to come there. And so the Clogher Diocesan Virtual Pilgrimage to Lourdes was created, taking place in homes and in various parishes from 3-8 July – the days that pilgrims were scheduled to be in Lourdes.
The virtual pilgrimage, with tagline #Lourdes2Clogher, was held via a dedicated website – www.lourdes2clogher.com and this was augmented by the Diocese of Clogher Facebook page. A number of parishes across the diocese also agreed to act as venues for the various Masses and devotions.
The Opening Mass, its theme reflecting that of the 2020 Lourdes season – “I am the Immaculate Conception” – was celebrated in St Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan by Bishop Larry Duffy, Bishop of Clogher, assisted by Canon Noel McGahan and Fr Leo Creelman. Members of the Lourdes pilgrimage staff attended too. The livestream of this Mass on Facebook alone reached over 11,000 people.
Commenting on the organisation of the virtual pilgrimage Dr Gary Carville of Clogher Dioceses said, “Challenges in organising the virtual Torchlight Procession and the Way of the Cross were overcome with skill, time and commitment of a small group of people. A call went out for people across the diocese to pray and record the Rosary prayers. These were brought together online using some of the technological means that we have all become used to over recent months, led principally by James McLaughlin, Director of Clogher don Óige. The result was manifest in the range of voices, the range of people and age groups and the leadership of Bishop Larry who led the procession and the Rosary from the Cathedral. Similarly, the Way of the Cross and the Holy Hour from Enniskillen, the Mass of the Sick from, Clogher and the Masses from Carrickmacross, Lisnaskea and Castleblayney were prayerful and uplifting. So too was Morning Prayer led by James McLaughlin each day and the Night Prayer from St Michael’s Church, Enniskillen, led by Monsignor Peter O’Reilly.
“The Closing Mass was celebrated by Monsignor La Flynn and the pilgrimage’s spiritual director, Canon Noel McGahan in St Mary’s Pettigo, the parish in which the Holy island of pilgrimage – Lough Derg – is situated. Thus, was highlighted the link of places of pilgrimage and how our entire life journey is a pilgrimage to God and with God, to Jesus through Mary. There were opening and closing messages from Bishop Duffy and there was also a message of welcome from Mgr Xavier D’Arodos, Vice-Rector of the Shrine of Lourdes.”
Over the six days of the Virtual Pilgrimage the website was accessed nearly 12,000 times. A core group of about 2,100 accessed the website more than 4 times over these days. Statistics from webcam providers (for the parishes where Masses were celebrated) show figures of between 1,600 and 2,500 views – from all over Ireland and the UK, but also from places as diverse as Australia, the USA, Kuwait and Trinidad and Tobago. The Facebook livestream of the Opening Mass reached 11,300 people, the Virtual Torchlight Procession reached 5,300 and the Way of the Cross reached 3,300. Overall, the posts concerning the pilgrimage itself reached over 24,000 users on Facebook.
The Diocese is hopeful that in 2021 they will be able to resume their pilgrim journeys to Lourdes.