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Pilgrims urged to slow pace of life

world Updated: Jul 28, 2007 18:02 IST
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Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics on a gruelling 1,500-year-old traditional pilgrimage up Ireland's holiest mountain were urged on Saturday to slow the pace of life in the hectic Celtic Tiger economy.

"The world in which we live has set an impossible pace," Archbishop Michael Neary said in his homily at the beginning of the annual climb up Croagh Patrick mountain in County Mayo in the west of Ireland.

"We are rushed from infancy to adolescence and then through those special years to an ill-timed adulthood," he said in his message to an estimated 30,000 pilgrims expected to make the climb over the weekend.

"We live in the age of the instant, where there is no joy in the anticipation and no time to value the achievement."

Neary urged the pilgrims to take a message from the mountain and Ireland's patron saint Patrick to "discover the need to reflect, to slow down the pace of life, to wonder at the beauty of the Earth, and to really appreciate the value of our friends."

Neary, who will hold a service on the summit on Sunday, said pilgrims should also remember the country's new immigrant community and those who "struggle with steeper slopes of hunger, exile, famine and separation."

The tradition of climbing the 764-metre (2510-feet) high mountain on the last Sunday in July -- known as "Reek Sunday" -- stretches back to 441 AD.

It was then that Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for 40 days and 40 nights, following the example of Jesus Christ and Moses.

About 100,000 people make the ascent throughout the year.

Saint Patrick, who came from Wales, is credited with converting Ireland to Christianity.

The ancient custom for the most devout climbers had been to make the pilgrimage up the 45-degree slope of loose shale and stones of the mountain "barefoot and blind" -- at night-time and not wearing footwear.

While some continue the tradition, the practice is no longer encouraged. The night pilgrimage was officially discontinued by the local Catholic diocese on safety grounds in the 1960s.