By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 19, 2012
Father John Kieran, native of Ireland and pastor of St. Pius X Church in Conyers, recently led a group of local Catholics to the Emerald Isle for the 50th annual International Eucharistic Congress, adding his personal touch to the trip with family visits and tours of popular religious sites.
Pilgrims from St. Pius X, as well as parishioners from St. Anna Church in Monroe and St. Peter Church in LaGrange and friends, comprised the group, which focused on a week of traveling and touring before the trip culminated in the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.
Flying into Dublin on Friday, June 10, the group began with a visit to All Hallows College, the seminary where Father Kieran began his studies for priesthood. Many felt it was an appropriate stop since Father Kieran had celebrated his 45th anniversary of priestly ordination just before they left on the trip.
After a visit with Father Kieran’s brother in County Louth, the group was off for the next few days to tour “St. Patrick’s Country,” which included visits to St. Patrick Heritage Centre in Downpatrick, County Down, followed by a stop at Saul Church, located on the site of St. Patrick’s first church in Ireland. The group also took a tour of St. Patrick Cathedral in Armagh, the “ecclesiastical capital of Ireland” for both Protestants and Catholics.
The second half of the trip included noteworthy sites such as the Knock Shrine in County Mayo, and Clonmacnoise, a monastic site overlooking the River Shannon in County Offaly. Knock Shrine, Ireland’s national Marian shrine, was built to honor a Marian apparition that took place on Aug. 21, 1879, when some 15 witnesses saw an apparition of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist, who all appeared at the south gable of the church at Knock.
“Although it’s hard to pick a single highlight, (Knock Shrine) was probably the one for me,” wrote St. Peter parishioner Fred Clause. “Just touring the grounds was a spiritual experience, but attending Mass in this chapel … no doubt in my mind, Mary, Joseph, and John the Evangelist were definitely there with us, as was the Lamb on the altar.”
Learning about many of the holy sites in Ireland and experiencing the fellowship, prayer and spiritual growth ranked high for the band of pilgrims.
“The best part of our pilgrimage was the opportunity to be able to attend Mass each and every day,” often celebrated by Father Kieran himself, wrote pilgrim Nancy Donovan-Watkins. “To behold the consecration in some of the most beautiful structures I’ve ever seen. To be present, to participate, to enjoy, to feel the Holy Spirit there with us is beyond description. I knelt in awe and smiled. Thank you, God, what a beautiful trip.”
“It’s hard to put in words just how much this trip meant to me,” added Becky Packrall, an Ohio native whose relatives attend St. Peter Church, LaGrange. For Packrall it was her first overseas trip as well as a chance to have some quality time with her brother and sister-in-law.
“Then it became so much more: shared faith with my new friends, a real spiritual growth (that I didn’t expect),” she wrote.
The trip concluded in Dublin with the group attending the International Eucharistic Congress, an event nearly 20,000 people attend each year. The congress is also known for its massive closing Mass, attended this year by some 50,000 people.
“I feel that everyone needs to experience at least one International Eucharistic Congress, World Youth Day or papal liturgy to see the Catholic Church coming together in holiness, in song and with such a beautiful spirit,” said pilgrim Cindy Palmer.
For one pilgrim, Margaret Dorroh of Savannah, an experience at the congress is one she will cherish for a long time.
“My most precious memory: We were leaving the stadium at the conclusion of the Mass on Saturday when we heard singing resume from inside the stadium,” she shared. “We turned around and returned to the stadium. The crowd remaining behind were standing and swaying and singing ‘Lady of Knock.’ I’ve been unable to get that song out of my head.”
“The closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress was truly the superb end to the pilgrimage—reminding us that we are one, universal,” added St. Peter parishioner Sheila Clause by email after the trip. “It sent me back to St. Peter’s … with a burning desire to encourage a deeper understanding of Eucharist.”