By Ann Marie Foley - 02 June, 2020
For the first time in almost a century, pilgrims are invited to do their Lough Derg pilgrimage from home.
The last time pilgrims did something similar was in 1921 when around 250 detainees at a prison camp in Ballykinlar in Co. Down did the pilgrimage exercises in their own 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,” Prior Mgr La Flynn said.
He explained that because of COVID-19 restrictions pilgrims will not be able to visit the island, at least for the first three-day pilgrimage. So he and some members of the Lough Derg pastoral team will take their shoes off to do the full pilgrimage over three days from 27 to 29 June.
Pilgrims at home are invited to take off their shoes and “do Lough Derg from afar”, as the prior puts it. He said that it will not be a virtual pilgrimage, but it will involve the full pilgrimage exercises, wherever the pilgrim may be.
Lough Derg is hoping to welcome pilgrims later in the summer when COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed and people can return. Mgr Flynn stated, “We have begun our preparations for reopening and once we have assessed the public health requirements and the Church guidelines we will be in a stronger position to make an announcement.”
As of 1 June 2020, Mgr La Flynn, who is Prior of Lough Derg, moved to Station Island to maintain the tradition of prayer which has been practised for centuries. This time of year should see hundreds of pilgrims making the boat journey for the first of the traditional three-day pilgrimages at Lough Derg, but Mgr La Flynn is alone on the Station Island.
“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,” he said.
He explained that at this time, which is an extraordinary moment in history, the team at Lough Derg was faced with the challenge of how to be faithful to the tradition of Lough Derg, and how to show solidarity with those who would normally make the pilgrimage in person on the island.
He added: “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.”
He said that those who have sent petitions and prayers to Lough Derg can be assured that that they 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,” he said.
There is also a special Lough Derg Memorial for those who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team has opened a dedicated book to honour their memory, and it will rest in the “In Memoriam” space in St Mary’s Chapel on the Island, alongside the books of In Memoriam cards of former Lough Derg pilgrims.
Just a few weeks ago, Mgr Flynn invited people to attend the more recently established day retreats by going online to a special Lough Derg website designed to facilitate them. (See cinews 21 May, 2020.) New June dates for online retreats are Sunday 7 June, Saturday 13 June and Thursday 18 June. Recordings of the May retreats can be viewed on the website too.
Lough Derg is also known as St Patrick’s Purgatory. Located in Co. Donegal, it is a pilgrimage site dating back to the fifth century. Since then, uninterrupted for over 1500 years, it has been a place of Christian pilgrimage and prayer.
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 September.
For streaming of retreats and resources for retreats see: https://www.loughderg.live.
Registration for the three-day pilgrimage opens on Lough Derg websites from Wednesday 3 June.