Father La Flynn, Prior of Lough Derg, has said that while the island pilgrimage season is delayed, the voice of prayer will not be silenced. Father Flynn was speaking as he departed alone from Pettigo in the Diocese of Clogher to the island place of pilgrimage also known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.
The beginning of June each year marks the start of the traditional Three Day Pilgrimage Season at Lough Derg. In normal times the June holiday weekend on Station Island would be busy with hundreds of pilgrims crossing over to take off their shoes and begin their ‘Station’. This year the Prior, Fr La Flynn, has moved alone to the island to keep a prayerful presence there until pilgrims are able to return.
Commenting on the delay of the pilgrimage season, Father Flynn said, “We have to go back almost 200 years to the 1820s, 1828 to be exact, to find a time when the summer pilgrimage season was last suspended, but today, 1st June 2020, my journey across to the island is a solitary one. While in the coming weeks I may not yet be able to welcome pilgrims due to Covid-19, I can at least in a humble way ensure that the voice of prayer does not fall silent in this place that has so long been faithful to the way of St Patrick, the young man who in his time of trial found hope and new purpose in his lonely place among the mountains. This unique tradition of prayer, handed on by pilgrims who have come here season by season from century to century, will be sustained until I can welcome them here again.
“Lough Derg is still here. At this time of year for many centuries now, pilgrims have come to this place apart, to this out-of-the-way corner of God’s creation. They come to ‘do Lough Derg’ – to make space for the deeper things, to find peace, spiritual nourishment and new direction on their journey of life. At this extraordinary moment in history, the challenge for us who are entrusted with the tradition of Lough Derg is to ask ourselves: How can we be faithful to its tradition and show solidarity with those faithful pilgrims who would normally be here but are currently prevented from making the pilgrimage?”
Father Flynn said, “In normal times pilgrims cross over daily from the beginning of June until the close of the season on 15th August, and they keep the continuity of the vigil prayer from day to day. For many of them it is a family tradition that connects the generations and they come, not only from across the island of Ireland but from far beyond, as pilgrims who want to do Lough Derg.
“I hope that – in some humble way – I can be that voice of prayer on Lough Derg until the pilgrims can return. This is not any heroic act on my behalf. It is a small prayerful witness on behalf of pilgrims who would otherwise be here themselves. It is also a token of assurance to those who have sent their petitions and prayers to Lough Derg, that these will be placed before God through the intercession of St Patrick. Many of these prayers speak of the struggles, the challenges and the loss that people have been experiencing during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, and of their trust that God is with them, to see them through.”
Pilgrims who will not be able to come to the Island this season are invited to do Lough Derg from wherever they are, alongside the Prior and some members of the Lough Derg Pastoral team who will take their shoes off to do the full pilgrimage over that weekend of 27 to 29 June this year. Father Flynn explains, “We are inviting pilgrims to do Lough Derg from afar. This happened on two occasions almost a century ago. In 1921 about 250 detainees at a prison camp in Ballykinlar in Co Down sought permission to perform the pilgrimage exercises there in the camp. Two years later the same request was made by 194 Republican internees on board the prison ship Argenta moored in Belfast Lough. On both occasions, because of the exceptional circumstances, the Prior granted permission to do Lough Derg from afar.”
Lough Derg is hoping to welcome pilgrims later in the summer when present restrictions have been eased and people can return with confidence. They have begun preparations for reopening and once they have assessed the public health requirements and the Church guidelines the team at Lough Derg will be in a stronger position to make an announcement on the date the Island programmes will resume.
In the meantime, those wishing to be part of the virtual pilgrimage are asked to register on the Lough Derg website from Wednesday 3 June – www.loughderg.org.