The Derry Primate of All-Ireland - a successor of the Patron Saint at Armagh - said he recognised this would once again be a very different St. Patrick's Day as a result of ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"For the second year running, celebrations of the Feast of Saint Patrick are curtailed by Covid19 restrictions. The traditional parades, parties, an rince, na seisiúin and the usual big sporting events have had to be cancelled or postponed. Even the White House presentation of the bowl of shamrock has gone virtual!
"Down the centuries many customs, myths and paraphernalia have grown up around Saint Patrick and the celebration of his feast day at home and abroad. But perhaps, paradoxically, the restrictions this year are opening up an opportunity for us to focus a little more on Saint Patrick himself, and even rescue the real Saint Patrick from the legends and distractions surrounding him," said the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
The former St. Columb's College teacher pointed out that the legends that surround St. Patrick often don't bear any relation to the life he lived as attested in his own 'Confession' and 'Letter to Coroticus.'
"You won’t find any mention there of green beer, snakes or even shamrock – but you will discover the testimony of a real person who dedicated his life and energies to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
"You will read about a young man who was seized from his family home as a teenager and trafficked to Ireland where he worked as a slave until he escaped back to his homeland. You will learn that even though Patrick had been raised in a Christian home and family, he says he had little knowledge or understanding of the true God.
"It was only while he was isolated and alone in captivity, minding flocks in the cold and rain on the hills and valleys of Ireland, that he found strength and courage in prayer and grew to know God’s love and protection in a powerful and personal way.
"You will discover that much later in Patrick’s life he heard the 'voice of the Irish' calling him to come back and walk once more among them, and he returned to Ireland as a priest and bishop to share the joy of the Gospel with the people who had once held him captive.
"His writings relate his struggles and trials as a missionary, the dangers and opposition he faced not only from those who resisted the spread of Christianity, but also from those within the Church who argued that Patrick had a questionable past and was unlearned and unfit to be a bishop," he said.
Archbishop Martin said he hoped people who have endured grief and heartache over the past year could find courage in St. Patrick.
"Thinking today of those in our country and beyond who are struggling during the pandemic - either from contracting the virus themselves, or having to isolate; those in hospital and intensive care; those whose jobs or livelihoods have been threatened; those who are exhausted from caring and worrying – I pray that they will find in Saint Patrick the courage and resilience they need to go on, surrounded, as he was, by the love and protection of God," he said.
The Primate expressed hope that on this the anniversary of the partition of Ireland the people of the country can unite in the shared tradition of St. Patrick.
"Thinking about Ireland, north and south, at this pivotal moment in our shared history, a time when we look back one hundred years: to separation and partition on this island and all that has happened to divide, grieve and polarize us; thinking at the same time about the achievements and progress of Irish people, and about the possibilities for lasting peace and reconciliation, for harnessing the beauty and uniqueness of our land, and for building relationships that will bring us closer together rather than divide us – I pray that we will find in Saint Patrick a source of courage, shared identity and values and the resilience we need to face with confidence new possibilities for today and tomorrow on this island," he declared.