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Bishop McKeown calls for Lough Derg-style pilgrimage

By Ann Marie Foley - 29 April, 2020

Bishop Donal McKeown

The Bishop of Derry has called for a Lough Derg-style pilgrimage in homes in his diocese, with the faithful fasting, praying and petitioning the Lord for help during this “major crisis” for society and Church. After the day of fasting, people can join Bishop Donal McKeown for online streaming of a vigil and his praying of the Stations live from the cathedral.

“I am inviting people within the diocese here to consider beginning and ending the month with 24 hours of prayer and penance,” he said. This will happen on the first Friday of May and into Saturday morning when he will offer Mass in the Cathedral at 6 a.m.

On Friday, people are invited to take one meal of black tea or coffee and dry toast, or something very simple, and to recite the Lough Derg prayers during the day and then join the bishop online for the all-night vigil through to Saturday.

“In a world where there is emphasis on obeying your thirst, and getting as much as possible of all these wonderful things that the world can offer, I think there is recognition of a time of prayer and penance,” said Bishop McKeown. “It is an act of radical solidarity with those who are in need,” he said.

He saw his parents meeting their obligation to fast and he grew up with going to Lough Derg. So, when he moved back to the Diocese of Derry, he went to Lough Derg every year with a group of people.

“I find that the emphasis there really brings me back to the basics of standing with Jesus at the foot of the cross, of the need for repentance,” he explained.

He said that the Lough Derg practices are part of a “tough traditional Irish spirituality of prayer and penance”. In a video message, he invited people to join him to fast and pray in a prayer of petition to ask God:
– to free us from this pandemic and to support those who are fighting it;
– to comfort those who have been afflicted in this pandemic; and
– for the wisdom to know how to live now and in the aftermath of the pandemic.

At the weekend, in his homily for Sunday Mass, Bishop McKeown spoke of Jesus at Calvary. He said our cultural narrative has tended towards the assumption that we are entitled to whatever pleasure and happiness we can get and that everything should be removed that upsets plans or causes pain.

“But the Jesus narrative of Calvary is much closer to what we are now discovering. The heroes are those who face harsh reality, those who love and sacrifice themselves. The ones who nourish us are not those who keep repeating foot-tapping, mind-numbing jingles but those whose lives and actions speak of courage and meaning beyond what tickles my fancy here and now,” he said. “It is not all about me, screaming out from a lonely place that ‘I am worth it’.”

He added that it is “painful” for many Christians that they cannot gather physically and hear the Scriptures proclaimed, and then share in Holy Communion. He concluded that just as the first Christians saw the risen Jesus, “we don’t have to be able to articulate all the logic of what is happening now. But Christians walk on with the conviction that there is One who does make sense of the apparent madness of shattered human dreams.”

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