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Archbishop shares his experience of the Reek Sunday pilgrimage

By Susan Gately - 28 July, 2018

“I pray as I climb; I pray the Rosary, and I pray as I walk around the penitential beds along the way," says Dr Michael Neary.

Dr Michael Neary descending Croagh Patrick in 2012.

An archbishop and a bishop will be among thousands of pilgrims who will climb Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, this Sunday.

The Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, and Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe will take part in the Reek Sunday pilgrimage. Dr Neary, who is aged 72, has made the pilgrimage more than 50 times in his life.

In an interview with CatholicIreland he shared that he does not dread Reek Sunday. “Ascending Croagh Patrick is a very challenging experience, but I actually quite enjoy it. I don’t rush, just take it one step at a time,” he said.

The 764-metre high mountain (over 2,500 feet) which overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo, is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. The climb to the saddle of the mountain is straightforward but the final ascent up loose shale and rock is difficult.

Although Archbishop Neary has done the climb many times, he says it does not get any easier. “But by taking it step by step it’s very manageable. Taking it slowly also allows me to take in the breathtaking beauty of the mountain and the surrounding area – Clew Bay, the islands – all part of God’s creation.”

Asked what he thought about during the climb, Dr Neary said for him it was a pilgrimage. “I pray as I climb; I pray the Rosary, and I pray as I walk around the penitential beds along the way. It’s also very much an occasion when I meet fellow pilgrims, and we greet each other and catch up on how we have been since last year’s climb. I enjoy that part of the journey too.”

On Sunday the Archbishop of Tuam will begin his climb at 7am, arriving at the summit in time to say Mass for pilgrims at 11am. Bishop Fintan Monaghan will celebrate an earlier Mass at the summit at 9am.

The Croagh Patrick pilgrimage, which is always held on the final Sunday in July, has been undertaken for more than 1500 years in honour of Saint Patrick. According to tradition, the saint fasted and prayed on the summit for 40 days in the year 441. There has been a chapel on the summit since the fifth century, although the present chapel dates back to 1905. In 2005 Archbishop Neary unveiled a plaque marking its centenary.

View from top of Croagh Patrick. (Pic by Susan Gately).

Up to 20,000 pilgrims are expected to make the climb tomorrow. Asked about the enduring attraction of the pilgrimage, Dr Neary said people love a challenge. “When pilgrims reach the summit of Croagh Patrick they have a great sense of achievement. It’s very easy to look back down the mountain and to be proud of having completed the climb.”

“People also come with various prayerful intentions,” he continued. “They pray for themselves, or for a family member or good friend, a neighbour. Often people come back to say thanks too. And one of the most uplifting sights at the summit is to see lots and lots of people queuing to go to Confession.”

Croagh Patrick is a physically demanding pilgrimage, and intending pilgrims are advised to heed the instructions of stewards and come prepared for changing weather conditions – with suitable warm and waterproof clothing, good footwear, walking stick or staff and water.

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