St Patrick’s Day Celebrations look to a shared futureFriday 18 March 2011
St Patrick had clearly 'turned the stone' for the Down and Dromore pilgrims making their annual journey from Saul Church to Down Cathedral on a sunny 17th March. The diocesan celebrations involve people from all backgrounds and denominations but this year the ranks of walkers were swollen with specially invited cross-community groups and leaders. This was in keeping with the chosen theme of "Shared Past: Shared Future, “which seemed particularly apt against the backdrop of controversy surrounding the civic parade in Downpatrick which, thankfully, passed off without event.
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The day began with Holy Communion in Saul Church where the preacher was Mr Dominic Breen, a Senior Teacher at Assumption Grammar, Ballynahinch and member of a group that meets regularly to pray at Saul. People of all ages and nationalities joined the pilgrimage to the Cathedral, including a group visiting from Down and Dromore's link Diocese of Albany, New York and 'YWAMers' from An Cuan in Rostrevor. We were led this year by Chaplain to The Titanic Quarter, Revd Chris Bennett, and as part of the devotions we contributed to the 'Summer Madness' vocal Bible project.
It was standing room only at the Festival Service where the congregation enjoyed performances from Irish dancers from Blackwater Integrated College and soloist Nicola Brown. VIPs present included the Lord Lieutenant of Down, The Mayor of North Down Borough Council and both the CEO and Chairman of Down District Council.
The guest speaker in Down Cathedral was The Right Revd Norman Hamilton, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church and a passionate exponent of churches taking their place in society for the benefit of the whole community.
Dr Hamilton, in his address, explored the Biblical imperative for our commitment to proper social cohesion and encouraged the active building of relationships across the community.
He insisted that, “We are not going to let the need for it to fall off our Christian agenda, whatever the political climate may be or the economic agenda priorities. To say it again - it is a Biblical imperative to seek and promote the welfare of others... especially people who are not like us."
Turning to St Patrick and his famous Confession Dr Hamilton noted that, “Christian integrity matters – a lot. It is not simply enough to know what to do, say or think – but it has to be backed up by very careful attention to godly living.
“I want to suggest here this morning,” he continued, “that one expression of godly living is in fact our commitment to good relationships across whatever divides there are in our community.”
In his St Patrick’s Day message The Bishop of Down and Dromore, The Rt Revd Harold Miller, echoed Dr Hamilton’s words:
“The task God is giving to us here in Northern Ireland, at this stage in our life together, is to lay solid foundations for a truly shared future,” he said.
“The truth is that, in sharing our lives, our perspectives and our cultures together we will find not only a creative way of living, but also a Christ-like way of love and respect for each other.”
After the service a wreath was laid at St Patrick’s grave by local ministers of all denominations and an Irish stew and apple tart lunch was served to invited guests in the Cathedral grounds. Later, Bishop Miller and Dr Hamilton joined the main St Patrick’s Day Parade in Downpatrick.