Over the space of ten days my trip to Ireland took me to four corners of the island, beginning in Dublin, then with stops west, in Ennis, south, in Cork and New Ross and finally north, in and around Belfast. Each evening a meeting and prayer brought together people from the surrounding area. In a number of these places, prayers with Taizé songs are held on a regular basis. The days were spent speaking with young people in schools and university chaplaincies as well as parishes.
The hospitality and generosity of the Irish are well-known but astounded me nonetheless at each step of my journey. Again and again I met people who were happy to be giving their time and whatever they have for others, whether it was the students of a school in East Belfast raising money to support famine victims in east Africa, pastoral workers in county Clare who accompany the young, university students in Galway working on a telephone hot-line for children at risk, or people in the ministry for the deaf in Dublin.
Crises in Church and society have rocked the country in recent years and have provoked much soul-searching for many. And yet everywhere I went I found people who were grateful to be living out their faith, however they could. I was reminded of Saint Paul’s words when he described how faith leads us to live not for ourselves but for the one who gave himself for us. Throughout the past, the Irish have drawn life from the Gospel and done so much to communicate that life to others, and this in the face of adversity and even far beyond their shores. No doubt today’s challenges are new and formidable, but from what I saw I would say that a fire burns in the midst of them.