Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Lourdes Spritual Director Steps Down

Father Ian Byrnes talks to A&B News’ Special Correspondent, Peter Burholt, on stepping down as the Lourdes Pilgrimage Trust’s Spiritual Director. Bustling in, this man from Dublin settled down to talk in his presbytery in St Leonards-on-Sea about his time with the Pilgrimage.

Q 1. This has to be the first question, were you pushed or did you decide to leave on your own accord? Slightly taken aback Fr Ian gave his reply.
Well now, what a question to start with! I had always thought this position had its own life and, after 9 years, it is now time to do other things. Perhaps it is a bit like getting out while the going is good!

Q 2. How did you become Spiritual Director? Did you apply to an advert in the A&B News? I originally came in as Director of the Pilgrimage, having been first approached by Lady Sarah Clutton. No, I did not have to apply - the offer came to me and Bishop Kieran had to give his approval.
However, after a few years it became apparent that the role of Director should be split – one role being responsible for spiritual direction and the other being more on the organisation of the Pilgrimage. Originally, I was chairing groups of 15 people and right from the start I wanted this to be reduced. Then the role of Spiritual Director was created and, looking back, this was a good move.

Q 3. When you took on this position, did you relinquish all your other Diocesan responsibilities? At the time I was Dean of Guildford, which I did have to relinquish. I carried on with my role as parish priest in Guildford and, for the first 5 years, I continued to be the pastoral co-ordinator for the deaf and hard of hearing group.

Q 4. What qualities do you think the Pilgrimage organisors saw in you? I’m not sure, but perhaps they thought I was a good personality! I must admit that I was quite naive at the time and I learnt a lot “on the job”.

Q 5. What does a spiritual director do? Is there training or does it come under the title “vocation”?
Fr Ian reflected over his mug of tea before answering this question.
No, there is definitely no training as such. I do regard this as a vocation in which I have been led by the Lord, another step in my journey through life.
I attend a range of meetings during the year including annual trustees’ meeting, before and after evaluation sessions, and bi-monthly core meetings. I need to explain the basic set-up of the organisation – it has 3 key elements, the Trust itself, the core groups looking after everything from transport to medical care, and then there is the evaluation process.
The programme of events is organised by the liturgy team. My role is the 3 “P’s” – creating the peace, the pastoral care and professionalism to enable the profession of our Faith. I believe this is the principal way of articulating our Faith, which is then animated by others on our pilgrimage journey. I encourage other members of the team to exercise their Christianity.

Q 6. Do you get paid?
Absolutely not!

Q7. How do you get to Lourdes? Is it first class travel or even a private jet?An Irish chuckle came out of this genial man as his thoughts ran wild for a few seconds.
Let’s get real, I go by Wells Fargo – the train!
Q 8. You appeared in Lourdes this year on the big occasions. Is this what happens – you are brought out to do the large event services and then they leave you alone for the rest of the pilgrimage?
Although I do get some private time, I concentrate on daily meetings with the local authorities, meetings with the leadership, going to events such as the children’s party and generally mixing with the pilgrims. Yes, then there are the grand occasions.

Q 9. The pilgrims at the Grotto Mass had an air of expectancy about them - something one would not understand as a newcomer, until your bag of tricks appeared during your homily, which was greeted with loud applause. What was that all about?
I believe that words are not enough when giving a homily to 1,000 people in the open air and it needs something visual to get the message over. The Word of God is expressed in 5 ways – spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical and social.
I must admit that, when I produce the hammer, the French MC nearly had a heart attack. I’m not sure I can translate what he said after Mass, or should I in the A & B News!

Q 10. You have a problem with deafness and dyslexia. Does this bring an added dimension to your own Lourdes pilgrimage?
Quite simply, home is not where you live but where you are understood. Lourdes makes me feel at home with my disabilities.

Q 11. How special was this year’s pilgrimage?Yes, it was a one-off – especially as it was my last as Spiritual Director. One very special occasion this year was when the Director of the Grotto presented me with a chip of the rock from the Shrine. It was a private moment to treasure forever.
Having Cardinal Cormac there for the duration was indeed a privilege and I must admit that I was stunned by Bishop Kieran’s words of thanks at the final Mass. He really took me by surprise ……. and then there was the shepherd’s crook.

For those at this Mass, Bishop Kieran brought onto the sanctuary a large and what appeared to be a heavy bag – upstaging Fr Ian’s bag of tricks at the Grotto. Inside was an engraved crook. On receiving this gift, Fr Ian was heard to say “Bishop, next time I see you with my crook and you with your crosier, I hope you will not feel threatened!”

Q 12. Was this a one-man-band experience over the past 9 years?
I could not have undertaken my mission without the help of the leadership and their confidence in me. I want to thank them for all their support.

Q 13. Do you have any words of wisdom for your successor, Fr David Parmiter?Quite simply, look for the eternal signs of love in the human form. The gift of our incarnation is so prevalent in Lourdes.

Q 14. Will you go to Lourdes next year?
My non-attendance at next year’s pilgrimage has nothing to do with the Olympics! I think Fr David needs a bit of space for his first year.

Q 15. Is it now retirement for Fr Ian, sitting in your deckchair each day on St Leonards’ sea front?That Irish twinkle and raised eyebrow returned.
What a prospect – the deckchair and the seagulls will have to wait a while longer. I am still priest to 2 parishes here in St Leonards and I will return as director and chaplain to the deaf and hard of hearing group.

Evening Mass was calling and the end of this chapter was about to close. For those of us who have experienced this man’s love and pastoral care in Lourdes, we would all hope that we could mirror his ways in our daily lives. We wish him spiritual fortune and lasting health.

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