Charity registration No. SC002876  
Sunday June 16th. 2013
Pilgrimage to Iona – following in St Columba’s footsteps At my request, this article was written specially for the Bulletin by Margaret Sargent, one of the pilgrims,  who also took the photographs.
t is an extraordinary and happy co-incidence that “The Year of Faith” declared by Pope Benedict XV1 has coincided with the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of St Columba, patron saint of our diocese, to the Isle of Iona. A pilgrimage therefore, of the diocese of Argyll and the Isles to Iona is a most fitting way of celebrating both our faith and the saint who brought it to these Scottish shores from Ireland.  The Pilgrimage began with the evening Celebration of Mass on St Columba’s feast day, Sunday June 9th, at Oban Cathedral.  Bishop Joseph Toal and Archbishop Antonio Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to the UK were the main celebrants and many more bishops and priests thronged the sanctuary. Bishop Michael Smith of Meath, Ireland was present, along with representatives from Kells who brought with them a beautiful copy of the Book of Kells to be displayed in Oban throughout the summer. People came together from far and near, filling the Cathedral for this auspicious occasion.  The Diocesan Choir, whose members come from every corner of our far flung diocese, led the people in the sung liturgy and hymns in uplifting and glorious sound that filled the Cathedral, adding further beauty and dignity to the joyful Celebration. The organist was Fr. Michael Hutson who directed the choir. Young singers from Barra and South Uist brought their own youthfulness and culture to the Mass with their lovely Gaelic rendering of Psalm 15 and the Prayer of St Francis. A contingent of boys and girls representing the youth of our diocese carried the Youth Cross of Faith from Iona to the Oban Mass. Bishop Joseph spoke with fervour of this important anniversary and of its relevance, particularly in this Year of Faith, as Christian values come increasingly under threat. He stressed the need for each of us to do all we can in our parishes to follow the example of St Columba through the practice of our Catholic Faith and the goodness of our lives. The words of the final hymn: “The golden evening brightens in the west seemed especially appropriate here in Oban as later that evening we wended our way to our various places of rest in happy anticipation of the morrow; and the sun went down in a blaze of glory in the western sky. Early morning sunshine greeted us a few hours later and by 6.30am the waiting room at the pier was bursting with rucksack clad pilgrims and abuzz with excited chatter. The Bishop of Argyll and the Isles ensured his flock was safely on board the Isle of Mull ferry before boarding himself and soon we were gliding through the calm, sunlit waters of Oban Bay, past the Cathedral, heading for the islands of the west. Our pilgrimage had truly begun.  I’m sure every pilgrim offered a silent prayer of gratitude to God for the
perfect weather. Warmed by the sunshine, many went on deck, finding old friends, making new ones; everywhere smiling faces. This easy rapport and friendship of pilgrims all on the same journey of faith was a feature of the day. Bishops, priests, monks and nuns mingled with laity, old with young, and there was a delightful blend of accents as people from all parts of the UK and abroad were engaged in cheerful conversation. A young Redemptorist priest from Zimbabwe, studying in Kent, was a symbol of hope for the future – in his land and ours. The coach journey across Mull was memorable, both for the expert skills of the drivers on the narrow, winding single track roads and for the splendid hill and coastal scenery. Most remarkable of all for me were the brilliant blue swathes of hillsides and verges where bluebells grew in abundance, such as I have never seen before. Everywhere on the Ross of Mull, these beautiful blue flowers coloured the waysides and open ground, eliciting many exclamations of delight from the passengers, for it was indeed an amazing sight, as if an artist had swept a brush of blue across the land.  At last we were there at Fionnphort (some having had a sneaky snooze en route on account of a short night) and making our way to the Iona ferry boat. The sun still shone, brighter than ever, but an unexpected breeze greeted our arrival on the boat and stayed with us all day. Somehow, it seemed very appropriate for this was a Spirit filled day and did not the Holy Spirit come to the first disciples in a powerful wind from Heaven?  The first view of the Isle of Iona and the Abbey from the ferry never fails to stir the emotions. Together they stand for the bringing of our faith to Scotland. It is incredible that such a tiny, remote isle should become the cradle of Christianity in our country and that a humble monk from neighbouring Ireland should sail and land, bringing that light of faith with him; a light which was to grow and spread so that today, 1450 years later, we too are lit by that same faith and follow in the footsteps of that saintly monk, Columba or Columcille – the Dove of Peace.  Our pilgrimage today led to Iona Abbey, its rose-hued granite from the Ross of Mull contrasting with the dark rock and creamy sandstone, the colours and the sparkle of the stone brought out by the sun. We gathered inside the Abbey, the light streaming in the far window behind the altar. At 10.30am the procession of clergy made its way up the long centre aisle to the altar. There followed another joyful Mass, the main celebrant being Archbishop Mennini who gave the homily and expressed his own joy at being on the pilgrimage. In their blue tartan sashes, the girls from the Western Isles sang again and the congregation joined heartily in the hymns and responses. It was a privilege to be at the Mass and we remembered in prayer those in our parishes who could not be with us.