From the centre of snow-bound Munich, Irish Jesuit Niall Leahy (Niall Senior, not novice Niall) has given us a glimpse of an attractive pastoral side of his ministry. He has been working in St Michael’s Jesuit church for the last four years. The summer offers him a particular joy in the Masses on the Almen in the foothills of the Alps, south of Munich. An Alm is a mountain pasture, which is covered with snow for about five months of the year. Young cattle are brought there to graze for the summer months. These “Almen” (Alms) are also places where hill-walkers will stop for a bite to eat and a perhaps a beer. And as the photo shows, people seek God in the Almen. Read Niall’s story. There is a tradition in Bavaria at the end of the season, of giving thanks for the months on the Alm. This is celebrated with a Sunday Mass, best accompanied with brass music.
There are many elements, I guess, that attract people to such a Mass: the walk to the Alm on a Sunday morning is something of a mini-pilgrimage – it is an all-day affair; one is in nature and leaves the noises of the city or the valley behind; one cannot drive there; one walks; whatever tended to separate people down below in the village or city disappears. All generations are present (children, teenagers and adults) – a phenomenon which is rare today; one is invited to be with oneself as one, step by step, makes one’s way to the alm; nature invites to inner stillness and receptivity for the Word.
When there is brass-music, there are invariably more people at these Masses than at the Masses in the local village. This prompted me to suggest to the parish-priest in “Schliersee” (not far from the Austrian border) that perhaps as a pastoral plan one should consider closing the churches in the valley in the summer months, take to the alms (where the people are!) and celebrate Mass there. He was not impressed.