On a St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland sombre due to the coronavirus crisis, the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, has called for an “outpouring of the works of mercy” as church bells have rung out across the country “as a call to prayer and social solidarity”.

Full text of Archbishop Martin’s St. Patrick’s Day message

This Saint Patrick’s Day, Ireland – like many parts of the world – is coming to terms with the Coronavirus.  Many people are anxious about what lies ahead.

Like others in society, our parishes have been introducing restrictions to help keep people safe, especially those who are most vulnerable.

I invite you to join me today in praying the beautiful prayer of Saint Patrick, known as his “breastplate” prayer, in which he invited Christ to surround him with love and protection:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

The coming weeks and months are going to bring challenges and uncertainty for all of us, as we are reminded of the fragility of human life and of our dependence on one another and on God.

This is a time for an outpouring of the works of mercy towards the sick and vulnerable, and for a spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice, compassion and charity in Ireland, and across the world. It’s hard for people not to be alarmed, but it’s worth remembering that we are never completely isolated or alone.

This is also a time for prayer.

Pray for the virtues of patience and perseverance and for the composure to overcome any temptation to despair.

Do your best to spread calmness – not panic; serenity – not turbulence; solidarity – not selfishness. Reach out to neighbours and relatives who may feel troubled or alone. Even a simple phone call can make a huge difference. Work to ensure that hope and compassion will prevail.

In turning towards God for protection, as Saint Patrick did, I ask for your prayers in particular for our brave and selfless health workers and for the medical scientists who are searching for a vaccine and better treatments.

Pray that government and public health authorities can make wise judgements and decisions about how to limit the impact of the virus, especially on the most vulnerable.

In Ireland we have a strong tradition that God is at our side in time of trouble. It remains important to keep reminding ourselves and others in the coming days that we are never completely isolated: Christ is beside us, before us, behind us, on our right and on our left, beneath us and above us.

Saint Patrick, apostle of Ireland, pray for us.

Dia idir sinn agus an t-olc. – “God between us and all harm”.

– Church bells ring out “as call to prayer and social solidarity”

In the meantime, in different dioceses in Ireland Church bells were to ring out today at 11am in honour of the country’s patron.

Phonsie Cullinan, the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, recalled that “at this time, due to the Coronavirus, Mass is being celebrated but without the congregation being physically present so ringing of Church bells is a call to prayer – wherever you are – and a reminder of the faith that has sustained the people of our island throughout the centuries.

“The bell ringing is also an expression of social solidarity, an encouragement to care for one other, and for all of us to be inspired and remain hopeful at the difficult time.”

“I encourage prayers for all those affected by the Coronavirus and for those at the frontline, by placing our trust in the Lord and asking Our Lady to intercede for us.”

“The ringing of church bells in unison across the country on our national saint’s day is a simple reminder that the Church stands with and supports the people during this public health emergency”, added for his part the Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary.

“Our initiative for Saint Patrick’s Day has in mind the many Irish men and women around the world who are affected by this pandemic and who may be worried and concerned about parents, family members and friends at home.

“As the bells ring out let them carry a warm greeting to our sisters and brothers abroad.  At this difficult time, I assure them of my thoughts and prayers on the feast day of our national patron”.

Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan recalled meanwhile that “we are not alone and the bells are a reminder of the presence of faith and prayer in these times”.

“It is a vital that we offer prayer for and with those in our communities who are worried, suffering or vulnerable.

“I think particularly of those in the health care sector who are heroically addressing the current crisis and those who must make difficult decisions. 

“Let our bells also be a sign of solidarity with them”.

“Let us very much remember in prayer those affected by the coronavirus and those at the frontline protecting us from its effects, the healthcare and medical teams”, said too Bishop Denis Nulty of the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, where church bells were also to be rung as a sign of hope and solidarity.

Encouraging the faithful to pray especially for priests, many of whom are making “huge sacrifices” these days, Nulty encouraged Catholics and citizens to “most of all, look after yourself and one another, particularly those most vulnerable, fragile and on the edges”.

“While the coronavirus recognises no boundaries; as people of faith neither does our love and compassion for one another.”

– Bishops urge personal “responsibility”, “sacrifices”

In other news regarding the Irish Church’s response to the coronavirus crisis, which has as of this Tuesday claimed a total of 275 infections on the island, with two deaths, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy urged people to take personal responsibility before the imposition of a government lockdown.

“For the sake of a few weeks, we need to make sacrifices”, Leahy said.

“Of course, we are afraid of cutting back in business and services; that’s completely understandable but we are at a point where it is now so evident that if we don’t take short-term sacrifice, we will hurt long term.

“We will hurt economically but we will hurt from a health perspective. And people will die.”

Leahy had in an earlier message said: “My prayers and thoughts are with everyone across the diocese and beyond that we can unite and overcome and yet look after those most vulnerable.

“It is our calling on this day and we will meet it with courage and creativity in the light of trust in God.”

Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown, meanwhile, admitted that the challenge for the Church in these days “is to see how we can speak of hope into a crisis of uncertainty that we face.”

“This is not a time for selfishness”, McKeown cautioned, adding that “as followers of Jesus, we know that difficult time are a call to renewed prayer and penance.

“Those who know Jesus believe that evil can never win – whether we are talking about physical threats or sin. Never doubt the power of prayer to fight evil in all its forms”.

Lastly, Bishop Dermot Farrell of the Ossory diocese said that although “many events have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus… [f]aith, love, and especially hope, however, are not among them”.

“Life is beautiful, but life is fragile. We all share a common home”, Farrell recalled.

“We know from our experience of life that God can bring new life from the ashes of the most complex of situations.

“As we now enter the painful and prolonged uncertainty of grappling with the Coronavirus, we pray that this will be a shared undertaking for the benefit of all humanity, a time when we realize that we are one family living in our common home”.

(Source: Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.