Bishop Denis celebrated Mass on Pentecost Sunday during the Ecumenical St Willibrord pilgrimage to Echertnach, Luxembourg.
During his introduction Bishop Denis commented “…I am delighted to welcome all of you to the crypt of Trier Cathedral as we come together for Pentecost Sunday Mass. I am honoured that His Excellency Mr. Peadar Carpenter, the Ambassador of Ireland to Luxembourg is joining us for this occasion and indeed will accompany us at other special moments of our Triduum here into the heart of continental Europe. We are privileged to be accompanied by Bishop Michael Burrows and his congregation…”
Today, Pentecost is in reality, the birth of the Church. We celebrate that birth in this splendidly impressive Cathedral at Trier, it is apparently the oldest church in Germany.
History tells us the story of faith goes back here to the very first century AD, to a Bishop sent by the apostle Peter. Of course this building is a successor to many other buildings and edifices on this site, including the original one built by Constantine. The Constantinan Church was four times the size of this fortress like structure. Today the Cathedral houses the seamless garment Our Lord wore during His Crucifixion. Another relic kept here is the Holy Nail, reputed to be one of those used in the Crucifixion.
Of course we have come in the footsteps of another Apostle to mainland Europe, Willibrord. Born on the 7th November 658 in Ripon in Yorkshire in the kingdom of Northumbria. Willibrord was the son of Wilgils, who later himself became a hermit at the mouth of the River Humber, where he later founded a monastery. Wilgils entrusted his son Willibrord to the monastery at Ripon, while there he was admitted as an oblate and received a classical education.
Around the age of 20 he left Ripon for Ireland, he was very much attracted to the stricter Irish monastic regime. He was influenced greatly by fellow Anglo Saxon monks Ecbert and Wicbert who already had established their monastic homes in Ireland. Willibrord found his way to Rath Melsigi (modern day Clonmelsh) where Ecbert was an abbot. He was ordained a priest at the age of 30 in 688 in Old Leighlin. And two years later he set out with 11 companions on mission to Continental Europe. That’s it in a nutshell, this is our connection to this great man.
Interestingly on this Pentecost Day he was not the only saint to come from that monastery at Rath Melsigi and Old Leighlin, I speak of St. Werenfrid. After his ordination, he too followed Willibrord into continental Europe to convert the pagan fields of Friesland, today the Netherlands. When he died in 760 his body miraculously found its way to its final resting place at Elst in todays Dutch province of Gelderland. One account suggests how his coffin was placed on an unmanned ship that floated of its own accord to Elst. Interestingly he is the patron saint of stiff joints and gout – we might all need him after Tuesdays hopping!
And now briefly to the hopping tradition! It takes place on the Tuesday following Pentecost every year at Echternach. Some suggest it goes so far back, it may have be a remnant of a pre-Christian practice. Dancing or hopping has a strong spiritual root – it was said the crowds were so large venerating the relic of St. Willibrord years ago, they swayed as they queued to enter the monastery, it looked like they were hopping.
Of course on Friday last the very first pilgrims entered Lough Derg where those of us who have been there know all about hopping from stone to stone, bed to bed on our bare feet. No panic, you can keep your runners or trainers on for Tuesday!
Pentecost is a very special feast for a Bishop as he reflects on the sacrament that he has imparted on thousands over the previous months. The pupils of Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal were with me on February 15th last as they helped me to fill the oil stocks for my Confirmation journey that would take me into 30 parishes over the following four months, confirming 2,315 young people. Their school was the very last ceremony for Confirmation on Saturday, May 27th. All of them wrote letters to me, all of which I read and a sample were shared during each Confirmation Liturgy … I wondered this Pentecost evening what kind of letter Willibrord would have written back to the people of Rath Melsigi from this the heartland of Europe. He certainly would tell them he was not in favour of Brexit! He might even ask what was the faith like in the Ireland he left 1,347 years ago? Was Ireland calling him once again to her shores, alongside the River Barrow, on the bridge that crosses half a glen – Leighlinbridge?
Luxembourg has a very proud place, at the centre of the European concept; Luxembourgers historically look out rather than looking in; Willibrord might ask us to look out rather than being over consumed by placing ourselves at the centre of things.
Pentecost celebrates everyone preaching in their own language about the marvels of God. Willibrord and his companion Werenfrid weren’t afraid to leave Ireland and bring the Christian message to continental Europe; tonight we are being charged with returning home with an even deeper appreciation of the Christian message as we walk in the footsteps of those who left Rath Melsigi and Old Leighlin many centuries back, but whose presence is still profoundly felt in the places they left and the places they went on mission to.