Patrician Year (1961): Bl. John XXIII’s Address on St. Patrick
Addressing a congregation of 500 in the Consistorial Hall of the Vatican after Mass on the 17th March 1961, the Holy Father gave the following address:
Dia is Muire dhibh is Pádraig.
On this day, the faithful people of Ireland, in their own beloved country and in every part of the world, are celebrating the liturgical feast of Saint Patrick, the fearless apostle and father of their faith, in the fifteenth centenary of his holy death.
You, beloved children of the Irish colony in Rome, have wished to gather in prayer at the altar of the Divine Sacrifice, around the humble successor of Saint Peter. With great pleasure did We accede to your filial desire: not only in order to render this occasion memorable, but especially in order to bear open witness to the esteem and affection which We cherish in Our heart for your glorious nation.
At this moment, your thoughts fly back to the fatherland you cherish, and to which, though in distant exile, you are bound by the closest ties of dedication and love. Well, let Us tell you that we too are present there, not only in the person of Our very worthy Legate, but more especially in spirit, with Our prayers and Our blessing.
And during Holy Mass this morning, Our fervent prayers were raised up to the Lord, beseeching Him to keep ever intact, from century to century, the fruits of holiness, of zeal and of apostolate which Saint Patrick caused to spring forth in that land, the land which with him and though him, became the Island of Saints.
The devotion to your great patron is ever alive and operative in you Irish people, and you have spread it in all the countries where the English language is spoken. Fifteen centuries ago, the good and faithful servant, at the end of an indefatigable and fruitful ministry, was called to the joy of his Lord (cf. Matt. 25:21); his labours had transformed a pagan people into a fervent community of Christians, amongst whom vocations to the apostolate and to the religious life immediately blossomed forth in countless numbers, centres of culture and of civilisation sprang up and multiplied, and there commenced a wonderful radiation of faith, which paid back to Europe and the world with abundant interest all that that blessed land had received from its Christian evangelisation. Saint Patrick was the author and cause of so profound a transformation: with good right could Sechnall, his saintly nephew, sing of his uncle in the alphabetic hymn, which breathes forth in its entirety a simple candour and a perfumed fragrance, this admirable and eloquent summary of gifts and of virtues:
Fidelis Dei minister,
Lumenque mundi accensum
In candelabro levatum
Toti fulgens saeculo:
Civitas regis munita
Supra montem posita…
Pastor bonus ac fidelis
The faithful minister and
eminent messenger of God…
The great, evangelical light of
the world, enkindled, raised on a
Candlestick, and shining over
the whole earth,
City of the King, fortified
and placed on a hill…
The good and faithful shepherd
of the evangelical flock.
To Saint Patrick God granted what few other heroes of Christianity were enabled to accomplish, even with tremendous efforts: namely, within the short space of a lifetime, to see the complete transformation of the land which had once received him as a young slave, and to which he had returned in the fullness of his apostolic fervour, with the mandate and the authority conferred upon him by the Supreme Pastor of the Church.
And since his death until this day, what fruits his work has continued to produce! How many saints have trodden the furrow which he ploughed, triumphantly expanding Christianity: Columba and Columbanus, Aidan, Cathaldus, Virgilius and Gall, who spread the Gospel throughout the length and breadth of Britain and Europe — how many priests and missionaries whose names are written in heaven (cf. Lk. 10:20), have left and are still leaving their sweet homeland in order to carry on a work so highly meritorious!
How many struggles and sufferings, trials and persecutions there have been, all borne with serene courage, to ensure for that ministry the stability characteristic of the works of God.
Beloved sons and daughters:
These glories of Ireland’s religious history, beginning with the mission of Saint Patrick, stand forth in your memory with greater prominence today and render your joy more intense.
The memory of the saint, however, arouses fervent and renewed holy resolutions: his tender and deep-rooted piety prompts you to live in the light of the Blessed Trinity, jealously safeguarding the gift of grace and of the interior life; his love for the Scriptures and the sacred sciences — which made him spend long periods in “divine readings”, divinis lectionibus, as the Breviary tells us — exhorts you to a humble and ardent study of the “knowledge of holy things” (cf. Wisdom, 10:10); and especially it is an exhortation to you, students of ecclesiastical colleges in Rome, hope and comfort of the Church of tomorrow: Saint Patrick’s untiring apostolate spurs you to continue in his generosity; to pass on intact the flaming torch you have received, to make yourself worthy of his teachings and of his sacrifices.
The life of Saint Patrick has an illuminating and joyful lesson for everybody: for priests and seminarians, for religious, both men and women, for mothers and fathers of families.
But there is one particular trait in the character of the saint which We would like to underline at the end of this address of Ours, a trait which is common to the generous faith of Ireland, and which is strongly emphasised by your presence here in Rome. We refer to his Roman spirit, that is, his unflinching fidelity to the Rock of Peter, which remained intact in his children throughout the long and troublesome course of their history.
Rome had been the point of departure for Saint Patrick’s mission; his deepest yearnings were ever directed towards this blessed soil, which guards the relics of the apostles and martyrs; to Rome he had been brought by an angel of the Lord, and so one can understand the full significance of the admonition which he addressed to his children: “Ut Christiani ita et Romani sitis” —“As you are Christians, be you also Romans”. To belong to the Church of Rome is the distinguishing mark for every true Christian.
That invitation of his has been jealously kept by you as the testament of a very loving father. Rome has always been the focal point for the simple and granite-like faith of your people: Rome has been a place of continuous pilgrimages for bishops, priests and monks, for men in authority and for the ordinary faithful: Rome welcomed with hospitable arms the aspirants to the priesthood, in those colleges which are the pride of your Dioceses and of your Religious communities, two of which were founded by the intrepid Franciscan Luke Wadding. Rome was again the guiding spirit of heroisms without number.
Beloved sons and daughters:
We beseech Almighty God, through the intercession of Saint Patrick — faithful witness of the Lord in the Catholic law, as Saint Secundinus calls him — always to keep your noble nation in that law, and to make it shine forth will all the Christian virtues and with every desirable gift of human prosperity and peace; We pray too that God may continue to fructify its soil so that it will produce ever-increasing ranks of apostles and missionaries, of convinced and generous-hearted faithful, who, in their love of God and their fidelity to the Church of Rome, will be an inspiring example to others, the leaven in the midst of the wheat, the good odour of Christ.
Courage then, beloved sons and daughters! It gives Us very great pleasure to be in your presence. Tell that to your fellow-countrymen; tell them that the Pope is with them, that He loves them and esteems them with all His heart. And to render the joy of this day all the greater, We send Our Apostolic Blessing to you and to all your dear ones, to your fellow-countrymen in Ireland and the world over, to your works and activities, so that “the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” (2 Cor. 13:13).
Beannacht Dé oraibh go léir.