By Sarah Mac Donald - 12 May, 2020
Over 66,000 people watched the special ‘Celebration of Gratitude and Hope’ which was streamed live from St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh on Sunday evening.
The hour of sacred song, testimony and prayer celebrated those engaged in the fight against COVID-19 and it was also honoured those who have been impacted first-hand by the pandemic through death or illness.
Archbishop Eamon Martin led the special service and was joined by well-known singers Karl McGuckin and Malachi Cush from Northern Ireland.
Speaking ahead of the event, Archbishop Martin explained that, “Despite the pain and struggles of these days, we are surrounded by the love, self-sacrifice and generosity of so many.” He added that in a spirit of hope, he was inviting people to take part in the celebration “as we pause to express our thanks in sacred song and testimony and prayer for the goodness that surrounds us”.
He noted that the writers of the Psalms kept on singing praises of thanksgiving to God even in the midst of all their trials and suffering and that St Paul had encouraged his followers to give thanks continually and in all circumstances. Referring to the Thursday night public applause for frontline workers, Dr Martin said the ‘Celebration of Gratitude and Hope’ was taking place in that vein of gratitude.
The hymns performed by Karl McGuckin and Malachi Cush began with Fr Liam Lawton’s adaptation of St Patrick’s Breastplate, ‘The Deer’s Cry’, and was followed by ‘Be Still My Soul and ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ before concluding with ‘Amazing Grace’.
The first testimony was given by John Fields, a member of the Armagh COVID-19 response committee.
He related how, as one of a large team, he has been involved in reaching out to help and support people in the community who are suffering as a direct result of the pandemic.
“Since we have formed, I have been overwhelmed by the wonderful support from our people in the business community within the city and beyond which has enabled us to provide food, care packages, PPE and a host of other supports to those in need during these difficult days. We trust that our efforts have helped make a difference and a difference for the better,” he said.
The next testimony was given by Bob Windram who lives in Armagh. “I have been confined to my home for the last number of weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a very worrying and difficult time for many, especially those who are old, sick and those who like myself who live alone. Many of us have been fearful about going out and so we have stayed at home.”
But he explained that people have been reaching out to support him and others like him by bringing food, medication and “attending to our needs”.
He also thanked Archbishop Martin for bringing Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to the community and thanked Bishop Michael Router and all the priests of Armagh for the live streaming of Mass.
“This evening I would like to give thanks for the goodwill of so many people who have been reaching out in different ways in recent weeks to people like myself. We hope that we will continue to experience that spirit of love and generosity in our communities in the future.”
Frances Barrett from Eglish, Co Tyrone has been working as a respiratory nurse specialist and trainer across the UK for over 25 years. She explained that her work involves diagnosing, assessing and managing patients with a variety of lung conditions within a primary care setting, in conjunction with the training and mentorship of the next generation of healthcare professionals specialising in respiratory disease management.
“This has been a particularly challenging time for everyone but perhaps even more so for those nurses and care workers within the hospital and community settings, as well as care homes and other care facilities. For all those who have been looking after our sick in any capacity across the world during these unprecedented times.”
“This evening we salute all nurses and carers for their bravery and courage during these challenging times and thank them for their continued dedication and commitment to their vital work in the care and support of the sick,” she said.
“Recognising our nurses and carers at this time is indeed even more pertinent this evening as we are in the middle of National Nurses Week which culminates on Tuesday 12th May with International Nurses Day, coinciding with Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday,” Frances Barrett explained.
She prayed that God would watch over all nurses and carers “and bless us as we continue to reach out to help support and care for those who are ill or in need in any way”.
In his prayers, Archbishop Martin offered a prayer for all those who have died and those who mourn during the crisis. “May you draw them, Lord, ever nearer to thee,” he prayed.
The Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Meela Campbell also gave a testimony.
She said the celebration was “an opportunity for us all to reflect – a moment to look back at all the things we enjoy and give thanks for those things we may have taken for granted”.
“The past weeks have been challenging and difficult and many of us will be feeling anxious about the future – so this evening is an opportunity for us all to reflect on how we move forward as individuals and as a society.”
But she added that while the past few months have been difficult, what people had witnessed was a community coming together – “a community united in their efforts to support each other and take care of the vulnerable and the isolated”.
She paid tribute to the local business community who had “closed their doors to protect us” and had also in some cases diversified to provide much needed PPE to frontline workers.
Praising those who have donated generously despite having an uncertain future themselves, the Lord Mayor said “that strength, that compassion, that kindness and that generosity shown by so many will help us all through this crisis. So this is a moment to look forward in hope and pray for better days to come.”
The Lord Mayor stressed that society owed a debt of gratitude to all frontline and essential workers including shop workers, postal men and women, health workers, council staff, the fire service and many others who have continued to service our communities throughout this crisis. “They have left their families and put themselves at risk to care for and support us and sustain us during this pandemic.” She added, “Our community has united and it is together that we will get through this.”
In his final blessing, Archbishop Martin prayed, “Father, we thank you for this time of sacred song and prayer which has reminded us to have gratitude and to hold on to hope during these times of isolation.”
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Tony Bolger of ChurchServicesTV said the “stats show that almost 66,000 unique viewers ‘attended’ Armagh cathedral yesterday with over 195,000 connections made.”
He said that the 10.30am RTE Mass on Wednesday, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, will be broadcast from St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh.
Live streaming of Masses and Services from churches in Ireland and the UK can be found here: http://churchservices.tv