Sixty-three years ago – 1948 – two young Irish men, James Doyle and Joe O’Brien set out on a long journey from Navan, Co Meath.  Like the seventy-two others of today’s Gospel, they too had been appointed – for they were newly ordained priests.  Like the seventy-two they too also were sent – for they were missionaries.  They travelled east and the came to a particularly beautiful land – a land of spectacular volcanoes and the most beautiful gardens in the world.  They came to Japan – the land of the rising sun.

Obviously some people made them welcome because the following year they opened their first Church in Japan.  Because they had came in the spirit and faith of St. Patrick, they named it the Church of St. Patrick.

Today that Church, located in central Tokyo, is part of a vibrant parish, made up of people from more than twenty countries.  This morning, through the wonders of the internet, I sent greetings from all here to the parish community in St. Patrick’s Tokyo on this St. Patrick’s Day.  

We want to express our deep concern and spiritual closeness to you.  In the midst of all your sufferings you are in our thoughts and prayers.  We pray for all those who have been killed or injured.  We feel close to those who lost loved ones and treasured possessions.  We pray especially for those affected by what happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  
Yesterday I spoke, by telephone, to the Parish Secretary – Ken Hiraga, at St. Patrick’s, Tokyo.  I assured him that this St. Patrick’s Day, Irish people across the world, would be thinking especially of the people of Japan.  I asked him to let his parishioners know that we would be united with them in this Holy Mass. I invite all those listening to offer it, with me, for the consolation and hope of all the people of Japan.  

Today the Catholics of St. Patrick’s Tokyo are deeply grateful to Father James Doyle and Father Joe O’Brien and to all the other thirty Columban priests.  Today when other Irish people come to Tokyo, appointed by their Government or sent by their County Councils, they welcome them.  That same gratitude is felt today in many places to the thousands of Irish men and women who left the love and beauty of their own land to bring the love and beauty of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world.

That gratitude is shown in many ways – in parades and processions, in meetings and Masses, in banquets and concerts.  To this day Ireland continues to benefit from this legacy of respect and goodwill.  

Today when Irish people go abroad – whether in search of employment or investment – they are often welcomed precisely because they are seen as the sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle.  When Irish people are received and honoured around the world on St. Patrick’s Day that is in small measure due to the network of goodwill already created for their beloved homeland over the centuries.

That goodwill has been created by people who left Ireland for various reasons.  Some left to make a living and give their work and their sweat to make a home and found a family.  They became celebrated ambassadors, community builders and social entrepreneurs.  But others went as religious sisters and brothers and priests to teach and to nurse and to pray.  They too are remembered today with affection and gratitude.  

I sometimes wonder what St. Patrick himself makes of it all now.  He once described himself, with typical humility, as a sinner and a most uncultivated man, greatly despised by many.  He said he was like ‘a stone that had fallen into a deep drain – and He who is mighty came’.  They are the words of Patrick himself. – ‘and in his mercy picked me up and indeed lifted me high to place me on top of the wall’.  

I imagine that Patrick is pleasantly surprised.  But I imagine that his surprise would soon give way to praise and thanks.  In his own declaration of faith he said “I cannot remain silent about the great favours and graces which the Lord deigned to grant me”.

Today unfortunately the historic link between the Christian legacy of Patrick and Irish identity is often ignored, if not out rightly denied.  This is evident in the increasing disconnect between so many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the faith and hope which Patrick came to bring.  It is part of a wider European problem.  Despite the fact that the roots of European and Irish culture are profoundly Christian there are those who would prefer to deny this reality.

Of course there is no contradiction between confident expressions of Christian faith in the public square and a society that is tolerant of other faiths and philosophies of life.  Religious faith is very important to very many Irish people.  This fact deserves due recognition and respect in public life and policy.

Yes, in Ireland confidence in many institutions – including the Catholic Church has been profoundly shaken in recent years because of our failures.  We must try and rebuild that confidence.  For the Church it means a humble discernment of the path to renewal.

One year ago Pope Benedict ‘Encouraged the Catholics of Ireland to remember the rock from which you were hewn”.  For Patrick that rock was his personal immersion in the compassionate and faithful love of Jesus Christ.  In his hour of need on the slopes of Slemish, Patrick discovered that love through prayer. “More and more” he says “the love and fear of God came to me and faith grew and my spirit was exercised until I was praying up to a hundred times a day”.  

The message of Patrick is clear.  Genuine renewal will only come about through a deep and intensely personal renewal of our faith and love of Jesus Christ.  Yes, debates about the structures of the Church are important – nevertheless, genuine renewal will always take us back to the message of Patrick – his favour and zeal were hewn from his intimate and personal love of Jesus – a love learned through suffering, sacrifice and prayer.  Patrick’s advice still holds good:  ‘Trust in the Lord my God and turn to Him with all your hearts since nothing is impossible for Him”.