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Homily of Bishop Michael for Anniversary of the Miracle of the Irish Madonna

Anniversary of the Miracle of the Irish Madonna

Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady, Győr, Hungary 19th March 2023

Homily by Dr Michael Duignan

Bishop of Clonfert, Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh, Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora


 Good morning! My name is Michael Duignan, I am Bishop of Clonfert and Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora in the province of Connaught in the West of Ireland. As such, I feel a close connection with Bishop Walter Lynch who was both a son of one of the great merchant families of Galway City and one of my predecessors as Bishop of Clonfert. He is the thread that, for over three hundred and fifty years and more has connected Galway on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean with the city of Győr –here at the crossroads of Europe.

Story telling is at the heart of our Irish Celtic psyche. It is also central to the Judeo-Christian faith where familiar stories are often told and retold to enlighten different times and circumstances.  While, I am sure you are all well acquainted with the story of Walter Lynch and his now famous painting of the Madonna and Child – perhaps there is some merit in revisiting it once again.

Walter Lynch was born around 1595 into a wealthy Galway merchant family. He received his initial education in Ireland. However, the political situation at the time, which banned Catholics from higher education, meant that he was sent to Lisbon for higher studies. Later he would return to the continent to study Theology in Paris and be ordained a priest there.

On his return to Ireland, Walter took up a leading position in the local church until he was appointed Bishop of Confert in 1647. These years were not easy for Catholics in Ireland. The increasing dominance of the English crown and the growing persecution and barbarism of Cromwell led Bishop Lynch and many more to flee the Island. After much travel, he eventually ended up in Vienna. There in 1655 he met Bishop János Püsky through whose kindness and generosity he was invited to Győr. There he was afforded lodgings, became a canon of the diocese and took a role in the ecclesiastical life of the city. Walter died on the 14th of July 1663 as he prepared to return to Ireland and was buried here in Győr Cathedral. After his death, one of his few personal belongings – the image of the Madonna and Child, which he was reputed to have taken with him from Ireland, was hung on the northern side of the Cathedral near what is St Anne’s altar at present.

Now we cannot but imagine the excitement that would have filled the air of this town and these parts in these days day three hundred and twenty six years ago. For on the morning of the Feast of St Patrick – the 17th of March, 1697 – while the faithful attended Mass witnesses told of how the image of Mary miraculously wept with tears of blood for three whole hours. Investigated by Church authorities with a favourable outcome –the picture has, over time, become the focus for Marian devotion not just in the City of Győr but for all of Hungary and beyond.  Later the timing of the miraculous event would be very much linked on the Irish side to the enactment of the most serious of anti-Catholic laws in Ireland in the days immediately beforehand.

In Hungary, it would be seen as a sign of divine closeness after the afflictions of one hundred and fifty years of foreign oppression. In time, the painting become known as the “Weeping Virgin Mother of Győr” – The “Irish Madonna” or my personal favourite “Consoler of the Afflicted”.

It is to this final title that I might now turn. By co-incidence or God-incidence as we gather to mark the anniversary of those events of March 17th 1697, the Gospel of today –the third Sunday of Lent – vividly puts before us the theme of human affliction and in particular that of blindness (John 9). Blind from birth and told all his life that it was the consequence of sin, the man at the centre of the biblical story was condemned to the life of a beggar. That was until he encountered the consolation of God present in the person of Jesus Christ. Not only does the whole event manifest to the unbelieving Jews the reality of who Jesus was – it also proclaims to each and every generation of believers since – that God is a God who stands on the side of those who are pained and afflicted in life. God is a God who wishes to bring healing and wholeness to such situations.

I am conscious that deep veins of suffering and heartbreak run through the history of Hungary and the history of Ireland. Both of our countries have had their share of innocent bloodshed and affliction. Today, we share the same experience of our globalised secular world where our spirits are too often numbed by consumerism and the bonds of human friendship weakened by individualism.  We share a planet that lives under the threat of an ever-increasing ecological crisis and a world where the waging of war has become commonplace.

Human life can appear cheap and disposable; poverty remains unconquered and inequality among people tolerated. In our world of plenty, people still want and go hungry and many despair and tire with their lot.

As Christians – as believers in a God who not only stands on the side of the afflicted – but who also actively works to console them – we must not lose hope.  For to quote Pope Francis when he spoke to the Bishops of Hungary in Budapest during the Eucharistic Congress of 2021, God always “accompanies us and gives us the courage and creativity we need to start ever anew.” (Meeting with Bishops of Hungary, September 2021) In the same speech, Pope Francis reminds us of the words of the great son of this land Cardinal József Mindszenty, who with faith inspired confidence proclaimed “God is young. The future is in his hands. He calls forth whatever is new, young and promising in individuals and in peoples. So we can never yield to despair” (Message to the President of the Organizing Committee and to Hungarians in Exile, in J. Közi Horváth, Mindszenty bíboros, 111).

In a most vivid manner, the events here on the morning of March 17th three hundred and twenty six years ago – are as relevant today as they were back then.  For in them we see Mary personify the closeness and compassion of God himself. In the silence of her tears, she calls out to us and to our entire world – no matter what never lose hope! – never yield to despair! – God is with you! – God is powerfully on your side! A Mhuire Mháthair, i rith mo shaoil bí liom mar dhídean ar gach aon bhaol!  O Mother Mary, all through my life be my safe shelter in every strife! Amen

Today I am conscious of the kindness and hospitality a homeless exiled Irish bishop experienced from Bishop Püsky and the people and priests of Győr those many years ago. As ecclesiastical relatives of that same Bishop Walter Lynch, I can vouch for the fact that that tradition of welcome and hospitality is still as strong among the Hungarian people today as it was three-hundred and more years ago. I would like to thank His Excellency Bishop András Veres for his invitation to be present today, for his welcome to us and for his kind hospitality. I would also like to thank Mr Tamás Kiss and all those who have made this such a memorable visit.  Mile buiochas daoibh go leir! – Thank you so much!