View of Church and New Coffee Shop
I am now coming to the end of my third year in Lady’s Island and what I like most about it is that it’s first and foremost a mission parish rather than one that is simply about maintenance. At this time of year, unlike so many parishes, our focus turns outwards towards welcoming the thousands of visitors and pilgrims that come here each year. At the very core of our mission is a ministry of hospitality where people are made feel welcome and this is where those who work in the Gift Shop and Coffee Shop are literally missionaries who work at the coalface of our missionary call and I would love to see many more people come forward and offer even a few hours a week to help out. It is an established fact that breaking out of the comfort zone of our immediate family concerns and giving of voluntary service greatly improves ones overall happiness and gives a sense of purpose. There are so many outside of here who would give their right arm to have a chance to be involved while at local level there are many who have the chance on their doorstep and don’t avail of the opportunity. The excuses for not doing so are many but the genuine reasons are few. We can always find time for what we consider truly important.
Personally I am delighted to see how the Coffee Shop and playground has turned out. It is now a top class facility that any community would be proud of. It also stands at the heart of our mission and of the churches mission of leading people out of isolation into community. The ever-growing trend towards Isolation is the curse of society today and lies at the root of so many mental and physical health problems. All the current studies are showing that you can drink all the orange juice you like and exercise till you’re blue in the face but if you are not connecting with people in a significant way you’re heading for trouble.
The facility itself, by its very beauty, speaks its own message. This year groups from here went to both Medjagorie and Knock. I enjoyed Knock far more which surprised me because up to this I had visited it often and was never impressed. It never did anything for me. Apart from the continuous rain it seemed a dreary old place, full of religiosity and tacky souvenir shops. Recently a new PP Monsignor Gibbons has taken over, who was a solicitor before he was a priest, and he really seems to know what he is doing. The whole place has been upgraded to a standard of excellence and it is now well worth a visit. His spirit and outlook seems to be changing the whole ambience of the place and it is simply beautiful. An aspect of God that we tend to overlook is his Divine Beauty and where there is beauty it awakens our spirits. It needs to be our policy here that in all things and in every development we must strive for beauty and excellence since in the end of the day everything speaks. Everything needs to be just right. For example, if pilgrims come here and see this church dirty and neglected with plaster falling off the walls what kind of message is that giving? On the other hand if they come in here or to the Coffee Shop and say ‘Wow’ immediately their spirits are lifted and they will want to return.
Thankfully we have beauty in abundance all around us here. Having visited quite a lot of scenic spots around the world as a ships chaplain I have seen very few that could even compare with what nature has on offer here. As locals we often fail to appreciate the beauty that is on our doorstep and what a privilege it is to live here. My old friend Brendan Mullins after being away in hospital for eight months having suffered a stroke spoke of being driven back into his home village. He said after living here for ninety years and working on the Island for seventy he felt as if he were seeing its beauty for the first time and he just broke down and cried. Mother nature has indeed blessed us richly in these parts but as the poet Robert Frost said ‘Only those who see take off their shoes while the rest pick blackberries.’
As this place unfolds it seems to becoming more and more associated with healing. The monthly healing masses are growing in numbers with the church nearly full and people are returning reporting big changes in their lives. One lady who had a huge burden lifted last month was back last Wednesday with her entire family and even a few relatives in tow. During the Pilgrimage season while we can’t have the traditional confessions because of so few priests yet the blessing with oil after the 3pm mass is proving to be very popular and so many who have something bothering them will say what it is and ask for absolution along with the blessing.
In a very real way the Pilgrimage route is a natural place of healing. Every year thousands of pilgrims trod that ancient path and behind each lies a story, a story that in some mysterious way is left in the footsteps they leave behind; struggles with relationships, difficulties with children, coping with impossible situations, bereavement, serious illness. The entire human story gets trodden into the landscape with prayer for healing and strength. Every year a mountain of heartache and heartbreak mounts as the year progresses. Salt as we know is a natural cleansing agent so come October that salty water rises and symbolically cleanses all the footprints of pain and suffering from the previous year. Then come March the Lake is cut and all that polluted water is then released out to the great ocean and the sea pours in once more in preparation for another season.
It’s difficult to imagine a place being more appropriate as a center of Healing.