Jesuits and colleagues met thousands of visitors at the purpose-built Jesuit tent in the National Ploughing Championships for the third year in a row, in Screggan, Co. Offaly on 19-21 September. The three day event continues to be the largest agricultural exhibition in Europe.
Many of the visitors wanted to learn more about Jesuit works, though others 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 crucifix of Blessed John Sullivan, the Jesuit priest who was beatified last May. There were non-stop requests to be blessed with this crucifix in the prayer room of the Jesuit tent.
Prominent among the public figures who made an appearance was Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, who chatted with Piaras Jackson SJ from Manresa retreat and spirituality centre. Another caller was RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke, brother of Fr Kevin O’Rourke SJ, who had been one of the chief organisers of the Jesuit presence at ‘The Ploughing’, as it is called. President Michael D. Higgins spoke about the importance of science and technology in the agricultural sector just a stone’s throw away.
There were more school-goers this year and they were thought to be very polite and courteous to the Jesuits and colleagues. “The young people at the Ploughing,” said Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, “would restore your faith in humanity.” They dropped in to pick up both Re:link, religious resources produced by the Messenger Publications, and a ‘Making good decisions’ leaflet which was in fact the most popular hand-out at the tent this year. Jesuit representatives shared their wisdom in decision-making with the school-goers and emphasised that decisions are based on more than just ‘the head.’
Brendan McManus SJ, author of Redemption Road: Grieving on the Camino, attended the Jesuit tent during the event. He drew on his experience growing up in a farm to offer a spiritual insight for online viewers. Speaking of the Ploughing to Pat Coyle, he said: “There’s something really earthy about it, and it’s lovely to be here and to see all of the people from all over the country”.
“A quote I really love from the prophet Isaiah is ‘Don’t plough continually,'” says Brendan. “So there’s a time for ploughing, there’s a time for churning things up, there’s a time for getting ready, for the seed, for the growth”. He emphasises: “Don’t push it. Don’t try to be in something that you’re not.”
Peter McVerry SJ attended on Wednesday, 20 September, and his stand sold Christmas cards for the homeless. It was noted that the secondary school students were quite enthralled by their encounter with Peter who spoke of saying Sunday mass in Wheatfield Prison, Dublin, and the concrete realities of the homeless people he serves. Adults also had lively conversations with Peter and there were laughs all-round.
The other stands in the Jesuit tent were: the Sacred Heart Messenger and Messenger Publications which included Re:link; Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality; Sacred Space, the popular online prayer website; The Pioneer Association; Irish Jesuit Missions; the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice; and the Jesuit Refugee Service. Many younger colleagues also fronted the Jesuit works this year. Furthermore, each Jesuit representative had their own role to play: some met teenagers at the front of the tent while others engaged the public at the different stands.
Tom McGuinness SJ, a British Jesuit who joined the retreat team of Manresa retreat and spirituality centre in 2015 said: “If it starts to rain more heavily, that could be an advantage for us because then people will come into the shelter of our tent and be warmly welcomed.” Given that it was a very wet Wednesday and Thursday with plenty of puddles, this is exactly what happened.