Hundreds of pilgrims joined papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown at the weekend to open the special ‘Door of Mercy’ on Lough Derg.
Archbishop Brown warned Catholics against being “stingy” with God’s mercy and said that Pope Francis wanted this jubilee year, specifically dedicated to mercy, to underline the fact that the Church must be a place of welcome.
Using the analogy of a motorway toll booth, Archbishop Brown said that mercy was not something that one had to pay for, but, instead, was a free gift from God.
He said that penance was not something undertaken to ‘earn’, mercy, but that penance was the natural response of a forgiven Christian to God’s gift of mercy.
Pilgrims crossed to the sacred island from early morning on Sunday, which marked the opening of the ‘The Jubilee of Mercy Pilgrimage Season’. One day retreats continue on certain days until 30 May. The traditional three day pilgrimage season commences on Wednesday June 1 and continues until 15 August.
Pilgrims can begin their pilgrimage on any day up to and including August 13, with one day retreats recommencing after this on Sunday August 21. During the three-day pilgrimage, pilgrims make ‘stations’: they walk barefoot, kneel on the hallowed beds, fast, pray and keep vigil. On one day retreats, pilgrims enter into a day of prayer and reflection and keep footwear on.
14,000 pilgrims visit Lough Derg every year, and since 1861 the number is estimated to be two million. On average, 70% of pilgrims have been female and 30% male. Eight out of 10 pilgrims return to the island and each year a growing number of new younger people come to experience the sacred island.
Archbishop Brown was joined in opening the door with Bishop of Clogher Dr Liam MacDaid and visiting clergy who were on the island to help with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Archbishop Brown said “it is really wonderful that during this extraordinary jubilee year of mercy, pilgrims have the opportunity to pass through a specially dedicated Holy Door on this holy island”.
Bishop MacDaid welcomed Archbishop Brown as the representative of Pope Francis. “Having a Door of Mercy, in this extraordinary jubilee year, puts Lough Derg on a par with the major shrines and holy places of pilgrimage and retreat throughout the world.
“We are deeply grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis for his thoughtfulness and we warmly welcome again to Lough Derg his representative, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Brown,” he said.
Prior of Lough Derg, Fr Owen McEneaney, said, “the island shrine is a sacred space of mercy and everyone is invited to ‘Come and let God’s mercy find you on Lough Derg’.
“It is a special sanctuary of peace and personal challenge. There are no outsiders here: everyone is equal. During 2016, I invite pilgrims into a new a commitment: if you are seeking time out from the daily grind of the everyday to come and walk in the footsteps of our forebears. Lough Derg reaches out to those in need: whatever your creed, background, personal circumstances or religious practice, everyone is most welcome.”