Homily of Bishop Denis Nulty at St Mary’s Abbey, Gowran

Evening Prayer for the Cluster Parishes of Clara, Gowran and Tullaherin at St Mary’s Abbey, Gowran

Sunday 26th September 2021


We stand this evening on holy ground.  Worship and prayer stretches back in these parts 2,000 years. The Christianised Ogham stone in the abbey chancel or Sanctuary is a reminder to us of ancestors who stood here before us in this sacred place. We give thanks to the Butler’s of Ormond and the many other philanthropists of their day for tending to and decorating this abbey. While Church of Ireland worship ceased here in the 1970’s, both the OPW and Gowran Development Association are to be thanked for their care and upkeep of what was once known as the Church of St. Mary, the Virgin of Ballygowran. And thanks to them for the permission to use the Abbey for our prayer this evening.

This initiative is one of a series of initiatives that I have encouraged in recent months across the thirteen pastoral areas that make up the 42 parishes of Ossory. Each pastoral area are encouraged to create a reason, a liturgy, a moment to come together. What Pope Francis has referred to as discovering “new forms of accompaniment and closeness”[1]. This evening it is the moment for the cluster parishes of Clara, Gowran and Tullaherin. Fr. Willie Purcell and Nellie Brett deserve huge thanks for making this evening possible. I also acknowledge the work of the wider pastoral area council with your very faithful priests Fr. Pat Dalton and Fr. Pat Duggan.

Christ be near at either hand,

Christ behind, before me stand.

Christ with me where e’re I go,

Christ around, above, below.

I recall a Saturday evening stroll in late July in Westport. I thought all shops would by then be closed. I spotted the door still open for a family run book shop on Bridge Street. I was browsing, nothing more. And overheard an American accent enquiring if the shop used Apple Pay? The young attendant replied it was possible but the purchaser would need to be purchasing more than a postcard! The American quickly added “But I’m an author”. She was Jeanine Cummins, the author of the much acclaimed ‘American Dirt’[2]. I immediately purchased a signed copy and read it over the weeks that followed. While it’s fiction, it is a graphic description of the horrendous journey a mother and her eight year old son Luca must take with fellow migrants from Mexico into the United States. All their family wiped out in a drug cartel shooting in Acapulco. And they spend their journey looking behind them. I’ll say no more, but recommend the read, if we want to understand migrants and refugees on this World Day for Migrants and Refugees.

Trauma is a huge part of a migrants and refugees story. Pope Francis asks us to stop using terms like ‘them’ and ‘those’ and start talking in terms of ‘we’[3]. It’s a huge challenge. It’s a complete rethink, an entire recalibration of our value system. We have watched the scenes unfold at Kabul airport as the American withdrawal timeline advanced. Only a few summers ago we saw the flow of migrants weave its way across mainland Europe. We have heard of oversized rubber dinghy’s sinking leaving on our shorelines the bodies of defenceless human beings. Pope Francis reminds us the present time as we emerge out of a world pandemic shows that the “we” willed by God is broken and fragmented, wounded and disfigured.

Christ be in my head and mind,

Christ within my soul enshrined,

Christ control my way ward heart;

Christ abide and ne’er depart.

An image he often uses, coming from his powerful Urbi et Orbi[4] address on a wet and isolated St. Peter’s Square during the depths of the pandemic, an image that suggested we are all in the same boat. Called to work together so that there will be no walls that separate us, but only a single “we”, encompassing all of us. The reality is we are not in the same boat. Some of us are on cruise liners, more on motor boats, some on small cabin cruisers, many on rubber dinghy’s and some still on rafts. It is an un-equal world, very much so for the migrant and refugee.  

Pope Francis’s appeal is two-fold. To ask the Church to become more “catholic”. We must widen out tent to embrace everyone. The migrants offer us “a new frontier for mission”. And to the world to more inclusive. We must build bridges that foster a culture of encounter. As an Irish society, as parishes we have a huge record of charity and compassion. This shows what St. Peter calls “the genuineness of your faith”[5]. Now is the time once again to dig deep in our welcome, our inclusion towards the full participation of migrants and refugees in the life of all our parishes.

Christ my life and only way,

Christ my lantern night and day,

Christ be my unchanging friend,

Guide and shepherd to the end.

This evening’s Entrance Hymn for Evening Prayer is based on the prayer called ‘St. Patrick’s Breastplate’. Patrick was a migrant and refugee who was himself trafficked into Ireland. His experience on that first visit despite numerous challenges left him open to returning again, this time as missionary and evangelist. Patrick came here to Gowran in 455AD establishing churches in the area. His visit Christianised this sacred place. Let us welcome those who come 1,600 years later to Gowran, Clara and Tullaherin, let us welcome those who come to our shores. Let us allow them to contribute to our society, our parishes, our communities. Many of them are contributing already and that is how I should be. I reiterate my call to encourage all in authority to ensure that everything is done to improve the lives of those coming into our country for refuge and for work.


[1] Pope Francis: ‘The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church’, July 2020

[2] Cummins, Jeanine: ‘American Dirt’, Headline Publishing Group, 2021

[3] Pope Francis: ‘Towards an ever wider “We”’, Message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2021, 26 September 2021

[4] Pope Francis: Urbi et Orbi Address, 27 March 2020

[5] 1P1:7

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