Fr Paul seems to have embarked on a series of pilgrimages to the some of the most important shrines in Ireland and has prayed for us back here in the Kouga at those wonderful places.
These include the Marian Shrine at Knock, in County Mayo in the west of Ireland, and Croagh Patrick, St Patrick's Sacred Mountain, also in County Mayo.
Knock Shrine (Irish Cnoc Mhuire "Hill of Mary), came into being when, on the 21st August 1879, at approximately 8 o’clock in the evening, fifteen people from the village of Knock in Co. Mayo, witnessed an Apparition of Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a Lamb and cross on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church.The witnesses watched the Apparition in the pouring rain for two hours, reciting the Rosary. Although they themselves were saturated not a single drop of rain fell on the gable or vision. There were fifteen official witnesses to the Apparition, most of whom were from the village of Knock and surrounding areas and ranged in age from just 5 years old to 74 years old. Each of the witnesses gave testimonies to a Commission of Enquiry in October 1879. The findings of the Commission were that the testimonies were both trustworthy and satisfactory.
Knock is now the National Marian Shrine of Ireland, and Fr Paul was privileged to say Mass there last week.
He then went on to visit Croagh Patrick, the Sacred Mountain of St Patrick.
Croagh Patrick, (also known locally as "The Reek") which overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo, is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. It is renowned for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honour of Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint. It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD and the custom has been faithfully handed down from generation to generation. Each year, The Reek attracts about 1 million pilgrims. On 'Reek Sunday', the last Sunday in July, over 25,000 pilgrims visit the Reek. At the top, there is a modern chapel where mass is celebrated and confessions are heard. Individuals and groups come from all over the world and include pilgrims, hill climbers, historians, archaeologists and nature lovers.
After months of meticulous planning and preparation, the day of the 50th Anniversary of Fr Paul Fahy's ordination - June 10th, 2017 - finally dawned, and with it came totally unexpected drama!
Fires, fanned by strong winds, had been raging in the Thornhill area, in the vicinity of the N2 highway between Port Elizabeth and Humansdorp for a few days and much damage and even loss of life had occurred. On the morning of the 10th, the fires had spread to the Van Staden's Bridge area, and we heard with trepidation that the authorities were considering closing the highway, due to the excessive smoke.
As is usual in these situations, we kept on getting conflicting reports; "The road is closed!" "The road is open - they are letting light vehicles through". This merely added to the consternation- what was Plan B? No Plan B was possible - the event simply could not be postponed. At best, we could delay it for a few hours, but if the main player himself, Fr Paul, who was in Port Elizabeth, could not get through even that option was a non-starter.
What would we do? The Bishop and 30-plus priests, deacons and religious were also all on the other side of the fire! Plus numerous other guests!
Finally, to our relief, priests and guests started arriving with harrowing stories of the smoke and fire along the way, And eventually, the man himself, together with his brother, Ed, who had flown in from Australia for the occasion, made his appearance. Not long afterwards, Bishop Vincent also arrived.
Against the odds, the Jubilee Mass started exactly on time, and a wonderful and moving Liturgy unfolded. The choir, under the inspired leadership of Fr Paul's long-time friend Veronica Wittstock, ably assisted by our own choirmaster, Dennis Mauer, rose to new heights. The homily was presented by Fr Dick O'Riardan, who had arrived in South Africa with Fr Paul on board the Pendennis Castle nearly 50 years ago. The homily covered Fr Paul's career in the Diocese of Port Elizabeth and highlighted his many achievements. It was very special and moving to see so many priests on the altar, concelebrating the Mass with Fr Paul, in tribute to his contribution to the Church in this Diocese. Cecile Heather's solo rendition of "Panis Angelicus" during Communion sent shivers down many a spine!
In his message, Bishop Vincent also paid tribute to Fr Paul's service and ministry to the Church and the Diocese.
Everyone attending the Mass was afterwards given a special cupcake, beautifully iced with either a cross or the numeral "50' on it. These were handed out at the tea following the service, and also served as the dessert at the luncheon. Special thanks to Linette and her team for the hard work in producing the 500 plus cupcakes and icing them all!
After the tea, those who had booked for the luncheon made their way to The Links in St Francis Bay, without serious incident, and only one priest managed to get lost along the way!
The day's drama had not ended though, and more was to come!
At this stage, the morning's lovely weather had given way to heavy winds which soon approached gale force and the noise of the wind almost drowned out Diana's welcoming address, as well as Fr Paul's reply, and the talks given by Fr John Clarke and Fr Billy Barnes.
Meanwhile, the fires in the mountains continued, with increased fury, fanned by the now gale force winds, and an early casualty was one of the power lines feeding power to the Kouga area. This resulted in a power blackout across the entire area, including, of course, The Links! While they did have a backup generator, the decreased available power had an effect on the kitchen, and the main course of the luncheon was delayed by more than an hour!
Nor was that the last of it! As people began to leave to return to Port Elizabeth, we immediately started getting reports that the road was again closed. When Fr Paul left to go back to Port Elizabeth at about 3.30 pm, he was turned back and had to spend a few hours back at the Church in Humansdorp. He eventually left to go back at about 7 pm and got home well after eight. Also delayed were many of the priests who had evening Masses, as well as Bishop Vincent and many of the lay guests from Port Elizabeth and points east.
In spite of the circumstances and problems, it was generally agreed that the event was highly successful and definitely memorable, perhaps made more so by the dramatic happenings that surrounded it.
Our thanks as a parish must go to Organising committee chairperson, Diana Alberts, Parish Chairperson Cecile Heather, Choirmaster Dennis Mauer, and the many others who worked so well as a team, and gave of their time so unstintingly to make the event the success it was.
Special thanks, too, to Veronica Wittstock, who travelled up from Knysna on at least two occasions to hold workshops and practices for the choir, and still managed to come through and attend the celebration in spite of having been twice evacuated from her home (which is also her B & B business) in Brenton-on-Sea in Knysna during the terrible fires of the previous week.
Our sincere and warmest congratulations, once more, to Fr Paul on achieving this very special milestone.
The Kouga Catholic Community was honoured and privileged to have been able to host the celebration and to have been a part of a very special Ministry by a very special Pastor.