With the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) less than six months away the new prior of Lough Derg is looking forward to the major event, and hoping he can encourage pilgrims to pray for its success.
Fr Laurence (La) Flynn has been behind the wheel at Lough Derg since October last year, and has a deep connection with the sanctuary. He told The Irish Catholic about his hopes for the future in relation to the pilgrim hotspot and the WMOF, his views on young people and retreats as well as the importance of retreats themselves.
“Last year almost all, if not all, of the 5,000 plus pilgrims who did the three-day pilgrimage offered one of their penitential stations as a prayer for the success of the WMOF. So, I see ourselves as being there in the background of the preparations, supporting the preparations with our prayer,” said Fr La.
Fr La first worked on the three-day pilgrimage 40 years ago – which involves fasting, prayer and bare feet – and says for the year ahead he looks forward to meeting again with many of the pilgrims he has gotten to know over the years, adding: “I’m very hopeful in particular this year with the World Meeting of Families coming up that we’ll be able to continue making a contribution to that.”
In relation to younger people the new prior said he believes “they’re very game” for retreats when the opportunity arises. Speaking from his experience of working as a secondary school teacher for a number of years Fr La said other teachers were surprised how readily pupils responded to having meditation at the beginning of class. Some students would even remind him that he hadn’t done meditation with them for a while.
He said: “Our experience on Lough Derg, whether it’s a Confirmation group, secondary school youngsters, or a particular youth group that come: Clogher don Óige or a diocesan youth group, I think the appetite is there when the opportunity is presented. They get a taste for it then.”
Fr La was previously the parish priest of Tullycorbet (Ballybay), Co. Monaghan, before taking over the role as prior as well as parish administrator of Pettigo parish in Donegal – succeeding Fr Owen McEneaney who had been in both positions since 2013.
Each week in summer since 1978 Fr La served in Lough Derg for at least a few weeks, he also wrote a booklet about Lough Derg published in 1987.
Speaking personally about the importance of retreats, Fr La said: “For myself it’s about coming back to centre, coming back to what really matters.”
“Sometimes I might go on retreat with something on my mind, but more often than not I can be surprised what emerges when I’m on retreat or indeed on pilgrimage.
“I think of what Augustan said so long ago: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” so there’s something about that restlessness… that takes us to that deeper place.”
Those who go to Lough Derg on a one-day retreat aren’t fasting, and are greeted with scones and tea/coffee, and they may expect the support of a group who are there with them in prayer, according to the prior.
“While there are devotional elements to it, there’s also the opportunity for people to take that little bit of time away from themselves, so people have the option if they don’t want to follow a particular piece of the programme they can step out of that and just have some quiet time for themselves,” he added.