80th Anniversary Mass of the Girls Guides of Arklow Parish

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Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Church of Saint Mary and Saint Peter, Arklow, 7th November, 2019 


     We celebrate this Jubilee of the Muire na Trocaire company of the Girls Guides founded way back in 1939.  1939 was not an easy year in Ireland or in Europe.  From the beginning of that year, dark clouds were appearing over many countries in Europe and indeed over democracy in Europe.

            Nazi Germany began a programme of expansion and smaller nations felt afraid.  After an initial response of appeasement, people began to realise that a policy called appeasement did not in fact appease Germany, but whetted its appetite for more daring expansion.

            At the beginning of September 1939. Germany invaded neutral Poland and immediately the Second World War began.

Ireland had decided to remain neutral in the war, but neutrality did not mean that Ireland would remain immune to the overall suffering that the war would bring.  Already soon after the declaration of war a first Irish ship was sunk by German submarines.  Ireland began to prepare. An emergency was established right across Ireland.  Air raid sirens were bought by the Irish government and tested. Petrol was sharply rationed.  There were scarcities in many forms of food and basic necessities.

It was in this atmosphere of gloom and anxiety that the Muire na Trocaire company of the Girl Guides began here in Arklow.  After a slow start, the number of guides and brigini began to expand and something very precious sprung up within this community.  That something very precious has continued right until our own times as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the foundation.  We are now well into the third generation of young girls who have had the experience of guiding.

The spirit of being a girl guide was well summed up in our first reading.  It is about a sense of responsibility.  Whatever we do as individuals has an effect on the lives of others.  The reading reminds us that we should never pass judgment on others or treat them with contempt.  There was a sense in which that spark of generosity that marked the foundation of the Guides in Arklow was precisely the opposite to the atmosphere of terror and fear that was spreading across Europe.  The leadership of that time was truly inspired.

Our Gospel reading again stressed a basic philosophy of life that marked this community as profoundly different from what was happening in mainstream Europe.  The Christian idea of greatness is different to the idea of greatness that inspired that movement of disregard for the weakest in society that was developing in Nazi Germany and would cause such destruction and shame.  

For the Christian, the greatest is one who recognises the value of the weakest and the most humble.  The Christian can never despise anyone because he or she might be weak or considered of less importance in society.

It is hard to estimate the real goodness that the spirit of the girl guides here in Arklow has been able to attain through education over the generations of young girls into a sense of personal and social responsibility.  There is still today a strong temptation towards selfishness and creating a false notion of self-importance.   There is still a strong need to help girls to continue to be inspired to be ready to serve and build up a better society.

Working for a better society is not simply about the burden of service.  Serving as a girl guide is also about enjoyment, about doing things together, about the joy of having done something for others and having experienced the help, support and encouragement of others.

I have noted in the publicity that has surrounded this anniversary also the many events and projects that the guides organized beyond your own town, some involving travel to different part of Europe.  The experience of encountering guides and girls of your own age from other parts of Europe is also an inspiration for you to work for a better Europe.  Much of the political discussion about Europe in our days is full of negative comment.  The European project is something positive that has brought cooperation, understanding and peace to our continent.

We look back over 80 great years, but we must also look forward.  You must be guides of the twenty first century.  You must be in the foreground of addressing new challenges. Your rejection of a culture of drugs witnesses to the fact that we discover the meaning of life in living a good and outward looking life.  Your generation puts my generation to shame when I reflect on how you commit yourselves to protecting the environment.  Never feel that you are too young to effect change for the good.

As young people, you should not be afraid to stand up against any trace of intolerance and disregard for those who are different.  Difference enriches our society.  I trust that you will welcome girls of different cultural backgrounds into your ranks.  I am often distressed to find in today’s Ireland groups who on false grounds foment hostility to people like asylum seekers who come from troubled situations and seek a safer life for themselves and their families. Ireland must always be an Ireland of welcome for the distressed.

At the root of your idealism is a desire to live and witness to the Christian message founded on Jesus Christ who showed us that our God is a God of mercy and love.  You can look to Mary, Mother of Mercy, and draw inspiration from her and how she remained faithful even at moments in which she could not be certain of what was happening in her life and in the life of her son.

Arklow should be proud of what the company of Girl Guides has achieved in these 80 years and I know that Arklow will continue to be proud of the girl guides of this new generation in building up a society inspired by Christian care for all.