By Richard O'Reilly
The Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, and the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good, have completed a three-day, 34-mile-long walk from St Columba’s birthplace at Gartan, in Donegal, to St Augustine’s Church in Derry-Londonderry. They undertook their joint pilgrimage to promote reconciliation in the community and highlight their shared Christian witness and Columban heritage.
The third and final stage of their journey began in Burt on Saturday morning where a short, interdenominational service was held in St Aengus' Church. The service included a reading by Fr Fintan Diggin which contained the words: "Use us to make you visible and known to others in countless ways, so that your great love for us might be reflected in our love for one another."
With their ‘hi-vis’ vests and specially-printed teeshirts, the two church leaders had been highly visible on all three days of their pilgrimage, as they joined worshipping communities, spoke to passers-by and talked with schoolchildren. They walked along the main road, first from St Columba’s birthplace in Gartan to Letterkenny (‘From Cross to Cross’), then from Letterkenny to Burt (‘From Church to Church’), and lastly from Burt to Derry-Londonderry (‘From Country to Town’).
Interdenominational services were held at various churches along the route, including St Columba’s Church of Ireland in Churchhill and St Eunan’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Letterkenny on Thursday; All Saints’ Church of Ireland in Newtowncunningham and St Aengus’ Roman Catholic Church in Burt on Friday; and St Aengus’ again and St Augustine’s Church of Ireland on Derry’s walls on Saturday.
At some of the services, the bishops referred to Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 24: 13-35), in which two disciples walked along the road to Emmaus. Our Lord accompanied them, although they did not recognise him. Both bishops said they looked forward to seeing how the Lord would use their journey.
During the last service of their pilgrimage, in 'the Wee Church on the Walls', the two church leaders expressed sympathy with the families of the two Buncrana teenagers who lost their lives in a road traffic accident in Inishowen in the early hours of Saturday morning. Afterwards the bishops visited the nearby St Columba's Church, Long Tower.
In June, the two men will explore their common Columban heritage further during a joint visit to the Scottish island of Iona, where St Columba founded a monastery in the mid-sixth century. And in September they will take part in two joint walks, from Limavady to Garvagh and from Claudy to Strabane.
On each of the three days of the Gartan to Derry-Londonderry walk, the two bishops wore teeshirts bearing the words, ‘St Columba – Charity & Peace’. These referred to the saint’s last recorded words to his community on Iona – ‘Preserve with each other sincere charity and peace’ – which the bishops have adopted as the guiding theme for their pilgrimages.