We have come here this evening to bless a number of things. 

First of all, your beautiful new Grotto in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes.  I am especially delighted to do so in this, the year in which the Church celebrates the 150th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady to the humble Bernadette on the banks of the River Gave in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  I complement you, Father Flanagan, on this beautiful initiative and I applaud the generosity of all those who have supported the idea so gladly and so well.

I hope to travel to Lourdes myself at the end of next week to join the Holy Father, when he goes to pay his respects to the Virgin Mary at the famous Grotto in France.  But now you don’t need to go to Lourdes anymore – you have your own lovely shrine here in the middle of Tyrone at which you can sing her praise, and place your prayers, before the Mother of Jesus.

The celebration of blessing holds a privileged place in the life of the Church.  We bless various items such as shrines, bells, cemeteries, halls but always for the benefit of people.  The calling down of a blessing leads us to praise God, God who is the source from whom every good gift comes.  For God who is all good, has made all things good, so that he might fill us, his creatures, with His blessings.  Even after our first parents sinned and all their descendants sinned, God has continued his blessings as a sign of his merciful love. 

But when the fullness of time came, the Father sent His only son, and through him, Jesus Christ, who took our flesh, the Father has given us a new gift in every spiritual blessing.  The ancient curse upon us was changed into a blessing.  Christ our God appeared.  So, Christ is the supreme blessing of the Father upon each one of us.  He is pictured in the Gospel as blessing those he met, especially the children and as offering to his Father, prayers of blessing. 

After he ascended into Heaven, Christ sent the gift of his Spirit.  The power of the Spirit would enable us to offer, to the Father, praise, adoration and thanksgiving.  But the power of the Spirit also enables us, through the works of charity which we do, to be numbered among the ‘blessed’ in the Father’s kingdom of Heaven.

All blessings come from God.  But God, in turn, has allowed many people, such as priests, kings and parents, to offer blessings in praise of His name. 

I remember once being very struck while visiting a Catholic family in Switzerland when the son of the house came and asked for his father’s blessing before setting out on a journey by car.  Perhaps the fact that they lived in the middle of the mountains, where the roads are often treacherous and dangerous, especially in the winter, was a factor which influenced his request.

Whether God blessed the people personally or through those who impart the blessing in His name, His blessing is always a promise that God will help us. 

This evening we bless the Bell.  It is an ancient custom to summon the Christian people by various signs.  The peal of bells expresses the sentiments of the people of God – as they rejoice joyfully on Easter morning, for example, or grieve sadly at the funeral of a parishioner.  The bell gathers us together so that we can show that we are all one in Christ.

The building in which social activities take place is significant for the parish community.  That is why this evening we are blessing the Community Centre here Slate Quarry.  It is a place where people come together to celebrate and to socialise, to show their friendship and support for each other. 

The Church considers the cemetery to be a holy place and therefore is to be blessed and a cross erected there as a sign to all of Christian hope in the resurrection of Christ. 

In an age in which there is so much darkness and despair, so much negativity and lack of hope it is important to bless and praise God as the source of all that is good – the source of all that is true and beautiful.

The cross is our only hope – the cross of Jesus Christ – on which death itself was conquered and by making the sign of the cross and by blessing ourselves with the sign of the cross, we call down upon ourselves the protection of Our Lord Jesus Christ – he is the Lord of the World and we declare ourselves ready to face the crosses of life  courageously and firmly in the sure hope of final victory.

I ask God to bless abundantly all who have helped in the provision of these new items of devotion.  I don’t have a full list but the people concerned know who they are and more importantly, God knows who they are and I suspect that most of you know who they are.

Finally, I want all of you to pray, in a special way, for the young people of this parish.  I know two of them very well – Ryan McAleer from the Rock and Aiden McCann from Cookstown.  The reason that I know them is that they are studying in seminary – Ryan in the Irish College in Rome and Aiden in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  They are studying to become priests of this diocese and I know that you will help them, in every way you can, but especially with the assistance of your prayers.

But this evening I want you to pray, in a special way, for all the young people of the parish.  I want you to ask from God a special blessing for them – the blessing of discovering the joy of giving praise and thanks to God.  It is said that grateful people are happy people.  If we thank God we will have joy in our lives.  If we are not thankful, we cannot be surprised if our lives are joyless and hopeless. 

And so this evening we give thanks for the joy and the hope which all these new facilities symbolise.  Long may the community spirit, which has helped to provide them, long may that spirit flourish.  We place them all under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes who chose a very young girl to be the recipient of her revelations. 

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.