Returning from Derry after experiencing at first-hand last week’s severe storms, I was reminded of God’s power in nature.
By Fr Tom Ryan, P.P. Shannon
As part of the celebration of Catholic Schools Week, each year 5th class children in St. Conaire’s School go on a pilgrimage to Cill Chonaire to explore the story of their patron saint.
The pilgrimage begins in St. Conaire’s Church in Carrigerry, named after the saint. The children learn about “The Night of the Big Wind” on 6th January 1839 when the roof of the church was blown away. It is a date etched in the minds of many who recall this terrible storm sweeping in from the coast and causing havoc.
The storm of Tuesday 22nd August 2017 which swept over the counties of Donegal, Derry and Tyrone will also go down in history as it has already been described the once in a century storm.
I will always remember this storm as it was my first, and hopefully the only experience, of travelling in a storm. That afternoon I had an appointment in Armagh and left the city around 4.15pm to travel to Derry.
As I left, the heavens opened and it rained continuously. Approaching Omagh the rain became very intense but the flow of traffic kept moving. Between Strabane and Derry, the rain hammering on the windscreen was louder than the radio.
I didn’t fully realise the impact of the storm until I approached the outskirts of Derry City and drove into a flooded main road. With no option but to try and keep going, I thought only of making it through safely and without damage while the cars around me crawled through the water.
While this was happening the thunder and lightning became more intense, so I switched off the radio and began to pray the Rosary. I came through the flood safely and stopped the car to check the brakes; thank God no damage was caused to the car or me.
I made it safely to my destination in Derry, relieved to have arrived in one piece as the intensity of the storm continued for another two hours.
The lightning conductor on the spire of St. Eugene’s Cathedral did its job on the night! It wasn’t until the following morning that I realised the devastations that the storm had caused throughout the North West, with homes, cars, property, and roads all destroyed. It was a miracle that no lives were lost.
On Thursday, I had a wedding in Inishowen, the area of Donegal which suffered the most damage and I saw for myself the aftermath of what a storm can do. As the main road had been ripped apart and was impassable, we had to travel bye-roads to get to the reception, others opted for the ferry from Magilligan to Greencastle.
Driving home at the weekend through a now very calm and beautiful west coast along the Wild Atlantic Way I stopped at the Franciscan Friary in Rossnowlagh. At the back of the Friary is Rossnowlagh beach so I went for a swim and saw and experienced the other side of Mother Earth, the beauty of nature and the goodness of the sea.
I have had a few days now to reflect on the experience of how one can feel so powerless and vulnerable when nature shows its power and might, and how such incidents of storms and flooding are becoming much more frequent.
I have been reminded of Pope Francis’s papal encyclical, LAUDATE SI on the care of our common home. The Pope urged us to focus on such key environmental themes as pollution and climate change, global inequality and the decline in the quality of human life. At the heart of the encyclical is a question; “What kind of world to we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”
Like most people I have tried to take steps to play my part ,such as making a greater effort to reduce the number of journeys I make in my car by walking where possible, to recycle paper, glass and metal, to conserve water and electricity by turning taps and lights off, to use re-usable shopping bags, to shop for local produce and to reduce my food waste.
Until last week I didn’t give much thought to the importance of these small but vital steps but I have come to realise that they must all fit together like a puzzle. The more little steps that we each take, the faster we will take responsibility for creation, and acknowledge our duty towards nature and our Creator, which as Pope Francis urges us, are an essential part of our faith.
A Prayer for our Earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognise that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.