Today we celebrate Saint Patrick, the atheist who became the patron saint of Ireland

Today, March 17, the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Patrick, bishop, missionary and patron saint of Ireland. The patronage of Ireland is held together with Saint Bridget and Saint Columba.

Saint Patrick is traditionally regarded as the one who introduced Christianity to Ireland at the time of the spread of the Gospel in Insular Europe.

Certainly, Christianity had arrived on the island years before, but it was not until Patricio’s arrival that the message of Christ was able to spread widely and take root in the culture. For this reason, history has called Saint Patrick “the apostle of Ireland”.


Saint Patrick was born in Britannia (today Great Britain) around the year 385. His father was a Christian and served as a diaconate. When he was very young, his house was ransacked by criminals who took him to the island of Ireland, where he was sold and worked as a slave. For six years, Patricio practically lived in the open, herding sheep, until he was able to escape and return home.

After having regained his freedom, he began the spiritual path that would lead him to the priesthood and, later, in maturity, to be ordained bishop of the lands in which he was enslaved. Only thanks to those bitter years Patricio was able to rediscover his faith -or really know it- since he had not kept anything that he was taught, to the point that he himself writes in his Confessions: “I did not believe in the true God. However, God would touch his heart and rescue him from the heavy chains that imprisoned his soul: “I was like a stone in a deep mine; and He who is mighty came, and in his mercy he lifted me up and set me on a wall.”

From Britannia he moved to Gaul (today France) where he began to deepen his Christian faith. There he is ordained a priest by Saint Germain of Auxerre. After a vision he decides to get rid of his properties and head to Ireland, where he understood that God was sending him to evangelize. The number of Christians on that island was increasing, and the Pope decides to appoint a bishop to serve the growing community. However, the person designated to occupy the episcopal seat dies suddenly and the position falls to Patricio.

Already in Ireland as bishop, Saint Patrick faced the druids, pagans who controlled the island territory politically, and also the Pelagians, heretics who at that time confused the faithful. Saint Patrick, in a context as difficult as that, never ceased in the effort to achieve the doctrinal unity of Catholics, while he spread Christianity and its culture throughout Ireland, building abbeys and more temples.

A simple cloverleaf

Traditionally it is said that he used the ‘shamrock’ (Trifolium dubium) -the three-pointed clover- to explain the divine nature. Saint Patrick used to use this leaf to bring his listeners closer to the Trinity, making an analogy between the three points of the clover leaf and the three divine persons, distinct and distinguishable, but who make up a single reality. This is equivalent, Trinitarian speaking, to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, three persons and one true God. Today the shamrock is the symbol of Ireland.

The fire that never goes out

It is said that one Holy Saturday, when Saint Patrick lit the Easter Vigil fire, a group of druids burst into the liturgy and tried to put out the fire, without success. Then one of them expelled from the place exclaimed with regret: “The fire of religion that Patrick has lit will spread throughout the island.” It was a lament, a prediction that the fire would sweep across Ireland and bring about its destruction. Over time, that complaint turned into a prophecy, but in the opposite direction: the fire, symbol of the light of Christ, would indeed spread, but to ignite the hearts of the Irish with love for God.

There is no Church without good priests

One of the saint’s greatest concerns was the formation of a local clergy. God blessed his pastoral zeal in attracting many men to the priesthood. The flourishing of vocations allowed the Church to organize itself solidly, forced by the presence of more bishops.

Saint Patrick positively influenced the reform of the civil laws of Ireland through his own principles of Catholic morality. Among other things, the recognition of that legacy is essential to assess the contribution of this saint, as of the Church in general, in the formation of the Irish nation and the British spirit.

At the end of his life, Saint Patrick wrote his “Confessions” -cited above-, an autobiographical work in which he reflected his memories, both the vicissitudes he had as a pastor and his feelings about the growth of the People of God in Britain.

Saint Patrick was summoned to the Father’s House in the year 461 and was buried in Saul, Stragford Lough region, where he had the first church built.

St. Patrick’s day

The devotion to Saint Patrick has spread throughout the world, particularly in English-speaking countries, thanks to the presence of immigration from Ireland. In places where there are Irish communities, it is customary to celebrate with green decorations and clothing -the national color- and marches or parades are organized that bring together not only devotees but people of all races, creeds and cultures, such as This is the case of the celebration that takes place in the city of New York (United States).

There, for example, one of the oldest traditions is the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which dates back to colonial times. In its beginnings, the parade was carried out by the Irish who were part of the British army, who used to dress in green and sing typical songs to the sound of bagpipes. That spirit has endured over time and today the parade is one of the largest celebrations in the American city. The representative color is still green and the participants – mostly locals – pass in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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