Bishop McGuckian marks ‘really important place in Irish history’

Bishop McGuckian marks ‘really important place in Irish history’

5 June 2024

WHILE St Patrick arrived at Saul on foot after a challenging boat journey up Strangford Lough in 432AD, the new Bishop of Down and Connor jumped out of a jeep for a special celebration at Slieve Patrick on Sunday.

Bishop Alan McGuckian, the newly ordained Bishop of Down and Connor, was accompanied by Saul’s newly ordained priest Fr Robert McMahon, whose first assignment was the place where Patrick began his mission almost 1,600 years ago.

Both arrived in their vestments, ready to celebrate mass for pilgrims, along with Canon John Murray Parish Priest, Fr Derek Kearney SMA, and Deacon Jackie Breen, who read the Gospel.

Bishop McGuckian chose the feast of Corpus Christi to celebrate Saul Sunday mass at Slieve Patrick, rather than the more traditional second Sunday in June, which recalls the anniversary of the unveiling of St Patrick’s monument in 1938.

This ensured that he could also mark the fourth day of his new novena (nine days of prayers) in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“This is a really important place in Irish history,” he said, “the place where St Patrick, who brought the faith to us, first said mass,” Bishop McGuckian told pilgrims. 

“Our hope and our expectation is that we will be renewed in our hearts, that you will be renewed your hearts and we together will be renewed in our hearts. And we will fulfill the purpose that God had when he sent Patrick here that first day — and we will become the people of God.”

The towering monument — the largest in the world to St Patrick — was conceived in 1932 and after six years of effort was unveiled in the presence of an estimated 50,000 pilgrims from across Ireland. 

It was built to mark 1,500 years since St Patrick’s journey.

Celebrating mass in the open air just below the monument, Bishop McGuckian spoke to a much smaller crowd which included local parishioners, some children who had made their first communion and 16 American Young Ambassadors who are visiting The Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick.

Bishop Alan stressed how healing can flow from prayer and communion.

“The heart of God in human form is wounded,” he said. “and that means our wounds and all of us bear wounds, the wounds of our lives, the wounds indeed of our own sins, but they do not distance us from the heart of Jesus.

“They actually unite us more closely with the heart of Jesus.”

Bishop McGuckian warned against 21st century biases when it comes to hearing ancient stories from the Old Testament. He said there is a modern temptation to think of the Israelites as weak or inferior for offering sacrifices to God.

He pointed to the mass reading of the day which included a passage from Exodus about the sacrifice of bulls and the scattering of blood.

“These stories were first read in Ireland when Patrick brought them here 1,600 years ago. He brought us the truth. The truth about us human beings. We are made to offer sacrifice to God. Sacrifice is giving God everything because God gives us everything and deserves our everything.

“That is who we are. We swim in this 21st century sea and we are infected by its ideas and biases and we could be deluded by those biases to forget who we are. We are people made for God and we will only be fulfilled in God.



“We come from God and we are on a journey towards God and with his grace we will spend our eternity with him and we will do that in spite of our sins and our turning away,  because of Jesus.”

The Bishop spoke of Christ’s sacrifice of his body and blood and having the privilege of transformation through the Eucharist.

“So let us look at the second sacrifice, the new one, we will celebrate at this altar today because of the word Jesus spoke and is recorded in Mark's Gospel, Jesus taking bread ‘This is my body’ and taking wine ‘This is my blood’. And we will do it, and how privileged we are to do this. We have in our midst God himself."

Fr McMahon said several days’ work had gone into preparing the site for the annual celebrations.

He said he was grateful for this and the good weather. 

“God made the weather just right,” he said. “No wind, no rain and a little sunshine.”

Peter Rooney came from Belfast for the special celebration, recalling how his mother-in-law, Mary Magee, was among those who had attended the official opening in 1938.

“Officially,” he said, “it’s great to be here for this. Unofficially, I’m just glad I got up the hill.”

Bishop McGuckian also greeted Geraldine McCormick, whose late husband, the Rev Paul McCormick, was ordained Deacon in Downpatrick in 2021.

The golden spade, which was used by the Bishop of Down and Connor Daniel Mageean to turn the first sod on the site on St Patrick’s Day 1932, was placed before the altar ahead of mass.