May the Lord give you peace! I got back to the Abbey Galway yesterday evening after spending three days at the Ploughing Championships in New Ross, County Wexford. I went over on Monday to set up my stall, a dangerous place to be with cars, lorries, trucks, and tractors moving around and preparing to set up house for the next few days. I did see a couple of damaged vehicles so I got out of the site as soon as I could.
This is my third time at the championships and on the two previous years in Athy, Co Kildare I helped out at the ‘Vocations Ireland’ stand. This year the Bon Secour Sisters and I (Franciscans OFM, Ireland) decided to take out a stand on our own.
On my return home and indeed in meeting with other people afterwards the big question generally is: “Did many show interest in vocations?”
Whilst this is part of our agenda in going to events like this it’s not really primary – a major reason for going to such events is just ‘Being present in the Marketplace’. The Ploughing Championships is certainly a marketplace with 58,000 present on the first day, 71,000 present on the second day and well over 60,000 present on the third day. Thousands of people walked past our stand and just looked in but thousands did come over and visit us and many engaged in very serious conversation about vocations, about religion, about family matters, and about the state of the Catholic Church in Ireland. All were extremely courteous. We handed out prayer cards for various occassions and of course our telephone numbers and website details are on all of those cards.
Many young people who don’t often have an opportunity to engage with religious today did come over and did chat. We had very interesting conversations with some. Parents and children visited us also and a number of people said how delighted they were to see us and congratulated us on being present at such an event.
We also met with some very interesting and friendly traders as our stand was in the centre of a retail unit. To the right of us was an extremely well mannered Jewish chap with his mother and their Roman Catholic friend. They were selling some beautiful knitwear – scarves, hats, gloves, socks and jackets. To the left of us was a music stand with a couple selling country and western CD’s and DVD’s so for most of the three days we were serenaded by many of the Irish country and western singers. Opposite us was a toy stand and some of the parents had a difficult time getting their children away from there. We got to know these people quite well over the few days and it certainly made us aware of the hard work many traders put in during these events. On our first day I was up at 4.55 am so as to get to the site before the heavy traffic arrived. On the second and third days I was up at 6.00 to be there for 7.45 and on each morning when I arrived these traders were already at their stands and preparing for the day ahead. We were always there until around 6.00 pm and it was then into the heavy traffic. On our second evening we sat in a traffic jam for up to two hours and one of the traders, extremely tired looking at 7.45 am the second day, told me that he didn’t get home until 11.00 pm the previous night.
The other thing that the sisters and I became aware of was how little some of these traders make, indeed some of them probably didn’t even break even. Our stand cost us over 500 Euro each so each trader with a small stand similar to ours paid over 1,000 Euro for their stand and the toy stand opposite us cost the trader over 2,000 Euro. It would take a fair number of CD’s or DVDs to make profit after paying for the stand and for travel to and fro to such events. All had lots of callers but it was obvious to us that not too many were spending money.
For me being in the ‘Marketplace’ is good as it puts me in touch with people in a way that’s interesting and challenging and it heightens my awareness to the daily struggles of the ‘man and woman in the street’. Despite the muck, rain, long walks wearing uncomfortable wellies, and carrying heavy bags and boxes, being on my feet for hours each day and heading into long queues of traffic in the evenings I’m already looking forward to next year. I think religious can benefit from being at events like this though I am aware it wouldn’t be everybodys cup of tea and of course it does take neck!!!
One of the last things that Jesus said to his disciples was: “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) And of course there are many ways of ‘preaching’. It’s our own St. Francis of Assisi that’s alleged to have said: “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.”
My hope is that my being present at the Ploughing Championships as a Franciscan Friar is all that is necessary. Sometimes I refer to it as ‘loitering for Jesus’.
God bless you all and if you want to know more about the Franciscans please contact me at my e.mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org