Most of us would despair after being taken into slavery. We might well understand it as the end of our lives. But for St. Patrick, the Archbishop of Armagh and the Apostle of Ireland, it was, in many ways, the beginning of his life.
He was six years a slave when he heard a voice telling him to be ready.
Patrick was a young man (probably born in what is now Scotland) when he was taken by raiders and carried off from his family to labor as a slave in what is now Ireland. At that time, in the fifth century, Ireland was a pagan land. Though enslaved, Patrick never lost his faith in God. He prayed, as he writes, “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same . . . I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”
He was six years a slave when he heard a voice telling him to be ready. He would need courage for whatever was next. The voice told him his courage would bring him freedom.
Patrick ran away from his master and walked 200 miles and saw a ship about to depart. Something told him to approach the ship and ask for passage. He was refused. Patrick prayed and asked God for help.
The sailors called Patrick back and offered him free passage on their ship. He was three days at sea. Once on land, Patrick had to walk for a month through wild and empty lands before he reached any people. Soon, he was back home.
But God had other plans for Patrick, who writes that he heard the voices of Ireland calling him, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”
Who can imagine being free and then returning freely to the land of one’s slavery? Patrick did just that. He went to Ireland and served there for forty years. He founded the first see of Ireland, at Armagh, which became a center of worship and learning.
Slavery is not an historical artifact. Slaves are taken every day, in every part of the world. Honor Patrick today by learning more about 21st century slavery and what all of us can do to end it. Tell his story, and of course, wear green.