By Ann Marie Foley - 21 May, 2020
Lough Derg has not gone away and has become the latest traditional church institution to go virtual. Due to COVID-19 restrictions the island has been closed to physical pilgrimages.
In a special online message the Prior, Fr La Flynn, has issued an invitation for pilgrims to join him and the pastoral team for virtual one-day retreats during the month of May.
“Although you are not able to be here, Lough Derg is here. Lough Derg has not gone away,” Fr La Flynn said. “We are thinking of you. We are keeping you in our prayers. Conscious of those who have sent intentions by post and online we are holding those in prayer before the Lord.”
He added that Lough Derg is planning to go out to the people from mid–May – not physically but online.
“I look forward to meeting some of you there,” he said. He asked for prayers for the team at Lough Derg at this “different” time.
The first online retreats were held on Saturday 16 May and Tuesday 19 May. The next two dates for day retreats are Sunday 24 May and Wednesday 27 May.
Physical day retreats have been going on for almost thirty years, and the Lough Derg team have set up a dedicated website for this new live streaming of these retreats and other resources.
They are in the “traditional Lough Derg format” according to Fr Flynn, but adapted to give a fresh online experience. He said that the retreats will enable people to become part of a praying community in “real” time.
A lot of work has been put into this initiative but he said it was done with excitement and in joyful anticipation.
One regular pilgrim contacted him and said that her mother who had been unable to travel to Lough Derg for many years would now be able to join her and everyone else on the day retreat.
Fr Flynn ended his invitation with a smile, noting that pilgrims will now have to supply their own soup and sandwiches on retreat days.
He hopes it will not be long before people will be able to visit Lough Derg in person again. At the time of gong to print the three-day pilgrimages were not to start as scheduled on 29 May. Fr Flynn stated that he hoped that these might resume in the latter weeks of the normal three-day Lough Derg pilgrimage season which ends in mid-August.
Lough Derg is also known as St Patrick’s Purgatory. Located in Co Donegal, it is s a pilgrimage site which dates back to the fifth century. Since then, uninterrupted for over 1,500 years, it has been a place of Christian pilgrimage and prayer.
The pilgrimage takes place on Station Island and, due to the weather, during a very short season. The traditional three-day pilgrimage normally runs from 1 June to 15 August; day retreats are held in May, late-August and September; school retreats are held in April-May and in September.
The traditional three-day pilgrimage involves prayer, fasting (one simple Lough Derg meal each day) and walking bare-footed and a 24-hour vigil. All of this enables pilgrims to discover their hidden strengths and rediscover what really matters in life.
The day retreats began in 1992 and were designed to make Lough Derg accessible to those who were unable for health, age or other reasons to do the three-day pilgrimage. They offer a day for busy people who value the opportunity to make time in life for the deeper things. A day retreat does not involve fasting, and shoes remain on.
For streaming of retreats and resources for retreats see: https://www.loughderg.live