The inaugural Irish Men’s Camino Challenge took place in County Mayo from 3 to 5 August 2019. It involved young men and Jesuits, Brendan McManus and Eddie Cosgrove walking the Tóchar Phádraig pilgrim path from Ballintubber to the top of Croagh Patrick. Here, Jean O’Mahony describes his journey full of wonder and discovery in the midst of all kinds of weather.
“I heard about this pilgrimage by chance or maybe by providence. It was organized by Father Brendan McManus and Father Eddie Cosgrove during the last August bank holiday.
We were a group of nine, seven young men from different places in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, and Cork) and two Jesuit priests. We met on Friday evening, shared a meal in a nice place, did a round table to present everybody and to know a bit about the core reason for participating for each of us. We then prayed together later in the evening when everybody arrived to offer the pilgrimage to God.
In the morning, we went to the Abbey near the place we were staying at. Father Frank – parish priest of Ballintubber – was waiting to introduce us to the history of the place, the legacy of St Patrick, and, most importantly, to the way of being a pilgrim. There were five pillars of pilgrimage: Faith, Gratitude, Companionship, Change of Heart and Celebration. I’d like to tell you about one of them that was particularly outstanding in the sharing we did every evening: Gratitude.
Father Frank told us to be grateful for everything, especially if things were going tougher due to tiredness, rain, wind or any unpleasant event. That sounded weird, or even mad, but it worked. The tip was to say “thanks be to God” whenever we felt things were going the wrong way for us. That simple sentence helped us to change our sight on how we were journeying and even brought some joy on the way, especially when it began to rain hard climbing Croagh Patrick: we were all thinking, ‘Thanks be to God, it’s raining!’
The main aim of the pilgrimage was the internal journey. That’s where the silent part of the pilgrimage played a major role. We had 40 minutes of silent walking per day to help us go inside and raise important questions about our personal spiritual life. We could enjoy nature in its beauty and diversity, finding God in a contemplative way, admiring the wonders around us, listening to the natural noises, feeling the earth under our shoes, the wind, the rain or the sun on our skin. It was important for us to feel part of creation.
At the end of the hike, Father Eddie celebrated Mass with us and the people wanting to join us in the chapel on top of Croagh Patrick. After Mass, the sun was shining, and we could enjoy a wonderful view of the bay.
This pilgrimage will remain a rich experience for all participants. Furthermore, we met persons we can now call friends thanks to the companionship created through conversations, sharing and common effort over the weekend. Finally, we have a pilgrim’s passport with a stamp for the Tóchar Phádraig! There are four Irish Caminos remaining: to be continued!”
Brendan McManus SJ, who is well accustomed to pilgrimage, having walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain many times, nonetheless found this walk challenging as well as enlightening at the end.
“The great thing about pilgrimage is how it brings up real issues,” he says. “For example, myself and another pilgrim frustratingly had to turn back near the top of Croagh Patrick. However, it turned out to be an important experience of recognising limits, discerning a good decision and being content with the gifts in our particular walk.”
Eddie Cosgrove SJ noted: “From a standoff with a rottweiler to sharing life stories along the road, it was a very consoling experience of God’s presence and action in our group, in the ups and downs of our pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick.”
The Jesuits hope to complete the other four ‘Irish Camino’ routes with young men over a number of years, collecting a stamp on the pilgrim passport each time. To book a place or for further information contact [email protected]