Tuesday, August 29, 2023

St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh marks anniversary with thanks

The leader of the Irish Church has paid tribute to the “huge generosity” of those who funded the construction of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, which was dedicated 150 years ago this week.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh gave credit to the Irish diaspora, especially in America and Canada, and to Protestant neighbours in Armagh, who helped to pay for the building.

Speaking in St Patrick’s on 24 August, the day the cathedral was opened and dedicated in 1873, he said visiting it is not like entering a museum or art gallery.

“This is the Lord’s house, it is a living space of prayer which is deeply sacred.

“For a century and a half, people have come here to lift their hearts and minds to God: in praise and thanksgiving, in sorrow and petition and intercession.”

Thinking of all the baptisms, first communion and confirmation ceremonies, the weddings and funerals that have taken place there, he said: “Imagine the millions of prayers that have been offered up here in times of joy and sadness, worry and happiness.

“I think of all the candles lit quietly in prayer, and faithful people asking God’s help with important relationships, decisions or exams, placing their hopes and fears before God.”

The archbishop said that no matter how splendid a church building may be, “we should always remember that the Church is made up of people – ‘living stones, making a spiritual house’ (1 Peter 2) and Christ is the cornerstone and sure foundation of the Church”. 

Archbishop Martin said that one day the beautiful cathedral of St Patrick’s would fall into ruin or be replaced.

“What is really important is we keep alive the faith and hope that this place represents and hand on the faith to our children and grandchildren.

“Wouldn’t it be a shame if this beautiful cathedral ceased to be a living house of prayer and ended up as simply another interesting tourist stop for visitors to Armagh?”

The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid by Primate William Crolly on St Patrick’s Day 1840, but all building work was later suspended due to the Famine and any funds raised were distributed for the relief of the poor.

Work on the cathedral resumed after Easter in 1854 under the leadership of Primate Joseph Dixon, but it was Primate Daniel McGettigan who oversaw the completion of the building and declared Sunday 24 August 1873 the day of opening and dedication. Massive crowds from across Ireland and beyond attended the opening.

The Archdiocese of Armagh has been celebrating the 150th anniversary with a series of events which included an outdoor “Celebration for Families” in the Shambles Yard in Armagh, at the main gates of the cathedral, on Thursday.

Evening prayer was held later on Thursday in the cathedral, and a specially commissioned icon of St Patrick written by the Redemptoristine Sisters in Drumcondra was unveiled and dedicated.

It depicts Saint Patrick as Enlightener of Ireland, with his hand raised in the gesture of blessing. He holds the cathedral of Armagh cradled in his arm in a gesture of protection, symbolic of his vocation as special intercessor for the people of Ireland and the Archdiocese of Armagh.

A print of the icon was presented to each parish of the Archdiocese of Armagh after the ceremony.

On Sunday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan from St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York will be the main celebrant and preacher at a Mass of Thanksgiving in the cathedral.

However, members of the Dromore Group, survivors of child abuse by Fr Malachy Finegan, have hit out at Cardinal Dolan’s role.

In a statement, representatives of the group said they were “appalled by the decision of Dr Eamon Martin to invite Timothy Dolan to the Armagh celebratory Mass and the role afforded to him as chief celebrant”.

They said survivors of clerical sexual abuse have raised concerns over Cardinal Dolan because of allegations by Chris O’Leary, who alleges he was abused by Fr LeRoy Valentine at Immacolata parish in Missouri, at the same time as the then Fr Timothy Dolan was a priest in the parish.

Chris O’Leary has said he is “extremely triggered” by the fact that Cardinal Dolan is being “feted” in Ireland when he believes the US prelate has questions to answer over what he knew about Fr LeRoy Valentine’s actions in the mid-1970s.

In his address on Thursday, Archbishop Eamon Martin said that in recent weeks, at Masses on the top of Croagh Patrick and at the Hill of Slane, he recalled St Patrick’s dream in which he “heard the voice of the Irish people calling out: ‘We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.’’”

“Here in St Patrick’s Cathedral, city of Armagh, I call out once more: St Patrick, intercede for Ireland!

“Come and walk once more among us. Inspire in us a determination to work for the renewal of faith, hope and love here in our land.”