A Retreat ‘ON THE HOOF’

This year’s annual Irish Salesian retreat set a precedent: on the second day of this five day encounter with the Lord at Milford the assembled confreres embarked on the first station of what is to become a pilgrimage to all the Don Bosco’s presences in Ireland. No more fitting place to begin this “Chaucerian” experience than the first Salesian house to be established in Ireland, at Pallaskenry in the county of Limerick.

In taking a pilgrimage, the pilgrim would often pray for guidance and hold a question in their heart. For us Salesians this journey is of special significance as we prepare for the bicentenary of the birth of Don Bosco, founder of our congregation in 2015. The pilgrimage will also encompass the coming of the relics of Don Bosco to Ireland in Feb 2013.

During the pilgrimage pilgrims would be attentive to God’s voice and be open to receive Divine providence. At a deeper level the pilgrim was made aware that surface answers themselves weren’t so important and the real purpose of the pilgrimage was the re-connection to God’s love. The Soul was seen as a doorway that through God’s grace could be opened (or re-opened) thus inviting the pilgrim to his true home once more.

Pilgrim Cross

The pilgrimage of the Salesians uses the image of the `Profession Cross’ of Christ the Good Shepherd. Each Salesians receives this as part of their final profession ceremony. The horizontal level is a metaphor for the outer journey the pilgrim takes. The vertical level, a symbol for the deeper journey of transcendence and reconnection.

So on Tuesday 5th June those making their annual retreat were conveyed from the Salesian University hostel in Milford to their Irish ‘mother-house’, now a flourishing secondary school and equally renowned agricultural college at Pallaskenry, formerly Copsewood House established in 1921. We were welcomed by the Rector, Fr. Martin Loftus and introduced to the facilitator for the day, Mr. John Doherty. John kept us to a tight schedule of input by the retreat Director, Fr. John Roche SDB from Berkley, California, and to discussion in groups using the ‘World Café’ format. The day’s topic was centred around the former Superior General, Fr. Juan Vecchi’s vision of the Salesian in relation to his/her life pilgrimage of working with the young.

After a typical Salesian festive lunch the Rector prayerfully introduced the pilgrims in the magnificent college church of Mary Help of Christians to the history of the Pallaskenry foundation. It was then the turn of those responsible for the various community apostolates to fill us in on their roles in the college community: the Rector, the director of the Missions Office, the headmaster of the agricultural college and the principal of the secondary school. Finally it was the turn of Bro. Padraig McDonnell to give us an overview of the work he does for youth in the city of Limerick.

Before the return journey to Milford we visited the Salesian cemetery where Fr. Martin blessed the graves of our deceased confreres to whom many of those present owe much on their individual Salesian journeys.

Fr. Laurence Essery SDB