The Jesuit tent at the National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, has been inundated with visitors over the three days of the exhibition, which ends today, 22 September. Many of them went to learn more about Jesuit works, though others have simply wanted to drop in to pray, to hear early morning Mass, or to take a selfie with a cardboard cut-out of Pope Francis, a Jesuit.
Another particular draw was the cross of Fr John Sullivan, a Jesuit priest whose beatification was approved by Pope Francis recently. Large numbers of visitors called in for a blessing with this cross in the Sacred Space prayer room in the Jesuit marquee.
Prominent among the public figures who made an appearance was Simon Coveney TD, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. He was particularly interested in the stand of the Peter McVerry Trust.
“It’s great to see the Peter McVerry Trust represented here,” he said to Pat Coyle, Director of Jesuit Communications; “My responsibilities now in government are primarily around housing and homelessness. We’re hugely focused on that, and obviously we need to work with organisations like the Peter McVerry Trust, who are really working at the coalface, working with the many, many hundreds of people who need the support services that they provide. My job, of course, is to provide funding, policy change and new thinking at the top of government, to make sure that we can really make an impact on a homelessness crisis that is growing by the week.”
Another caller was RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke, brother of Fr Kevin O’Rourke SJ, who has been one of the chief organisers of the Jesuit presence at ‘The Ploughing’, as it is called.
The other stands in the Jesuit tent were: the Sacred Heart Messenger and Messenger Publications; ‘Re-Link’, the schools supplement of the Messenger; Manresa, the Jesuit Centre of Spirituality; Sacred Space, the popular online prayer website; The Pioneer Association; Irish Jesuit Missions; the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice; the Jesuit Refugee Service; and Jesuit Vocations.
Many school-goers dropped in to pick up both Re-link, religious resources produced by Messenger Publications, and a ‘Making good decisions’ leaflet. Some of them said they found the leaflet useful for getting ready for exams and for ‘clearing the head’ in order to decide on career choices or other life-decisions.
In the spirit of greater collaboration which has marked the Jesuit provinces of North-West Europe over recent years, a number of British Jesuits helped out during The Ploughing. These included Peter Scally (one of the co-founders of Sacred Space) and David Stewart.
According to David: “It’s been a wonderful experience to be here and to meet so many wonderful people. There are lots of fascinating stories to be told about this great week.”