A Spiritual High in Ireland

By Mary Catherine McCoy and Meghan Cesar

Photos by Katie Edson, Emily Clementi, and Alex Choong

Featured image: Towering 5th century Celtic Cross at Monasterboice (Photo Credit: Katie Edson)

They’re a tough crowd, today’s Millennials. And now that they have had a few months to think about that first REGINA Trip for young adults in June 2017, fellow travelers Mary Catherine McCoy and Meghan Cesar interviewed Amanda Lau (Singapore) Emily Clementi (US) and Marco DeClara (Canada) about their experience.

Discovering the Mass Rock at Muckross Abbey (Photo Credit: Emily Clementi)

REGINA: What was it like traveling with a group of young Catholic adults?

AMANDA: I was mostly pleasantly surprised that although the majority of us came on the trip without knowing anyone else, we quickly found we had a lot in common. Perhaps because of the faith we share, we sort of all spoke the same “language”. The age range of the group also meant that we were more or less in the same stages of life. It was also a lot of fun hanging out with people who love Irish music and beer. Just because we are all devout Catholics doesn’t mean we can’t share our faith journey over a pint of Guinness!

EMILY:  It was awesome. I hesitated to sign up for the trip only because I had never previously traveled with a group and didn’t know what to expect, but it was a ton of fun. Such smart, interesting, enjoyable people to travel with and to share in the experience of an incredible country. Lifelong friends, for sure!

MARCO:  The best part of traveling with a group of Catholic young adults is being around people your own age group who take their Faith very seriously. It makes me feel like I’m not alone in the world.

Crosses etched into the Mass Rock during Penal Times at Muckross Abbey (Photo Credit: Katie Edson)

REGINA: So, what did you think about REGINA’s efforts to incorporate the Catholic Faith on the trip?

AMANDA: REGINA did really well. The Catholic aspect was what drew me in when I first saw the advertisement, and the trip did not disappoint at all. I really enjoyed visiting the Catholic monasteries, ancient ruins and meeting people from Catholic communities across Ireland. My personal favorite was having daily Mass and also having a priest with us who always reminded us to pray our rosary on the bus!

EMILY: REGINA did an incredible job – so many amazing Catholic sites and a good variety of different kinds of experiences including daily Mass; visiting monasteries, abbeys, priories – both old and new; going to the site of a Marian apparition; climbing Croagh Patrick; and visiting significant artifacts that were used for evangelization (i.e. Celtic high crosses and Book of Kells). Jam-packed with Catholic Faith, I’d say.

MARCO: Very well! We made sure to visit the most important Catholic sites in that country (I.e. Knock, St. Patrick’s mountain). Also, having Fr. James Moore in the group was also a blessing, as we were able to celebrate Mass daily.

The Latin Mass at Sacred Heart in Limerick, restored by the Institute of Christ the King

(Photo Credit: Alex Choong)

REGINA: What were the illuminating Catholic sites for you?

AMANDA: Visiting the Sacred Heart Church in Limerick was probably the most illuminating for me. Learning the history behind the abandoned church and seeing the on-going works with our very own eyes was fascinating. The huge effort that they are putting into the restoration of the church is very encouraging and it gives me hope knowing that there are still many people who love God so much and will do anything to ensure that the generation of tomorrow will continue to have a place to worship Him.

EMILY: Really all of them were. We got to see pieces of Catholic Ireland in its various stages: the very beginning (Monasterboice), the “height” and then the subsequent ruin during the Reformation and other historical conflicts (Murrisk Priory, Muckross Abbey, and Mellifont Abbey; St. Oliver Plunkett’s relics), and the present day efforts to renew the life of the Church in Ireland amidst the ruin and the decreasing Mass attendance and interest in the faith (Silverstream Priory and Sacred Heart Church).

MARCO: Sacred Heart Church in Limerick was the most illuminating Catholic site for me. The Church sat vacant for a few years and is currently in use again. I think that is symbolic of how the Church in Ireland can also rise up again.

Statue of St Patrick, photographed on the way up to the summit of Croagh Patrick.

Photo Credit: Emily Clementi

REGINA: Did you have any spiritual highs or lows on the trip?

AMANDA: I think everyone was on a spiritual high on the day when we had Mass on the ruins of Murrisk Abbey and then proceeded to climb Croagh Patrick! The whole experience was surreal. The trip was too short for any lows.

EMILY: Definitely no spiritual lows from my perspective, but many spiritual highs, including standing in the ruins at Murrisk Priory while Fr James cleared the altar at the end of a beautiful Mass. There we were on the shores of Clew Bay at the base of Croagh Patrick, as the winds blew, crows flew above our heads, and heavy clouds rolled along above us. We stood in silence for a while in the ruins of this holy place where the Mass had once been offered so many times. While I felt sad about the fact that Ireland has drifted so far away from the Church in so many ways, I also felt deeply grateful for my life, my Faith, and all that brought our group there to be together in that moment.

Praying the Rosary on the bus. (Photo Credit: Alex Choong)

REGINA: Did the tour become a pilgrimage for you?

AMANDA: Being able to visit and say a few prayers at the site of the Marian apparition at Knock was a pilgrimage for me. There was something very special about being physically present in that same place where our Lady chose to make an appearance.

EMILY: Yes, I suppose it did become a pilgrimage of sorts, walking in the footsteps of St. Patrick, visiting Knock, and seeing the relics of St. Oliver Plunkett – paying homage to all of those involved in the rich history of the Catholic faith in Ireland throughout the centuries.

MARCO: Definitely climbing St. Patrick’s Mountain. St. Patrick climbed that very mountain and spent 40 days in prayer at the top before beginning his ministry.

 Photo Credit: Emily Clementi

REGINA: We viewed a memorial of the coffin ships that carried 1 million people abroad during the potato famine, while another million Irish died from starvation in 1845-1853. What would have been your hopes and dreams?

AMANDA: I would have dreamed of a better life, finding a job that will put food on the table, a good education for the children, and religious freedom to practice the faith.

MARCO: Just like those Irish migrants, I would’ve had the same dream of starting a new life, and help do my part in spreading the Catholic Faith.

Mass with the Monks of Silverstream Priory (Photo Credit: Alex Choong)

REGINA: What did you think of Ireland’s fight to preserve the Faith, both in the past under English rule and in today’s secular society?

EMILY: When I think of Ireland’s struggle to preserve the Faith in the past under English rule, I immediately think of Oliver Plunkett and all those who lost their lives under the persecution and struggled for religious freedom for so long. Given all of that tragic history of bloodshed, it’s very sad to come to terms with the tremendous decline of Catholicism observed today amidst an increasingly secular society. However, I do think there is great hope with the emergence of places like Silverstream Priory and the ICKSP at Sacred Heart Church in Limerick.

MARCO: Ireland has definitely been a bastion of Catholicism for centuries! It is a shame to see the decline of Mass attendance in recent years. There is still a small, but devout population. Hopefully, through their prayers, Catholicism will be restored to its former glory in that country.


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