Full disclosure: my family tree doesn’t extend even a single root in Ireland. So when I traveled to Dublin last summer for the International Eucharistic Congress, I didn’t know much about the nation’s history. That would explain my surprise when Tourism Ireland proposed that, during our stay, we visit the country’s religious pilgrimage sites.
'Why would someone go on a pilgrimage here?' I wondered. Is the Christian tradition in Ireland really that old? After all, none of the twelve apostles ever ventured to those shores.
As I would soon discover, Christianity in Ireland goes all the way back to the 5th Century. And if you ask the Irish, they do have their own apostle, of sorts: St. Patrick.
It’s easy to disregard St. Patrick as a product of folklore, since legends and secular traditions have somewhat obscured the man himself. But while hagiographies of early saints can be hard to authenticate, Patrick’s historicity is beyond dispute. This, I learned, is due in large part to an autobiographical document called the Confession of St. Patrick
, a letter that details his faith and mission.
No, St. Patrick probably didn’t expel snakes from Ireland. And he surely wouldn't condone excessive drinking on his feast day. Rather, he did, by his own account, baptize thousands of believers and, as a bishop, he ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. His legacy lives on in the faith of Irish Catholics -- both on the Emerald Isle and among the sizable diaspora in North America.
St. Patrick isn’t the whole story, though. To learn more about pilgrimage in Ireland, watch tonight’s new episode of Catholic Focus
, airing at 7:05pm ET/4:05pm PT, repeating at 11:05pm ET/8:05pm PT (and again on Saturday at those same times).
- Credit: S+L/Joshua Lanzarini