The life of Saint Patrick

It is hard work thatching a roof. Makes your arms and back ache. I have a lot of work to do still, but at least the job’s done for today. The best thing about thatching? It’s being outside...and the views. When you’re up on a roof working you can see the whole village...and the fields beyond. You can even see the sea. Across that sea is Ireland.

A year ago my friend Patrick sailed over that sea to Ireland. The whole village went down to the shore to see him off. It was a sad day, but a happy one too. Patrick has a mission. He has gone to tell the people in Ireland about our God.

We stood and watched the little boat as it sailed away from us. I watched it until I could see it no more. My heart was heavy as I walked back to the village. I missed my friend already. I did not know if I would ever see him again. But none of us – not even his family - could stop Patrick from leaving. He had had a dream - to return to Ireland, the very place where a few years before he had experienced such suffering. You see, the first time Patrick went across the sea, he was taken from us...as a prisoner.

I’ll never forget that terrible day. Patrick and I had gone down near the sea to cut reeds for thatch. Patrick was my friend: my best friend. We talked about everything.

That morning we were talking about a disagreement that Patrick had with his father that was troubling him. ‘My father is sad,’ Patrick told me, ‘because I do not share the faith he has in his God.’

We were so busy working and talking that we hardly noticed the boat that sailed in to the shore. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some men clamber out, but we were busy and I thought nothing of it. Then we heard a shout. Only then did we realise we were in danger. The men had swords in their hands...and they were running towards us.

I was terrified! I dropped my bundle of reeds and ran. My father had warned me about the raiders from across the sea. How they sailed along the coast, raiding villages and seizing people to take away as slaves. I was afraid these men would take us away and make slaves of us as well. Why had we not been more careful? Why hadn’t we kept a look out for trouble? We ran as fast as we could!

But then I heard another shout – from Patrick. He’d tripped and fallen. The raiders soon caught up with him. They hauled Patrick to his feet, handled him roughly. ‘Run!’ Patrick cried to me. ‘Run!’ So I did. I did not try to help Patrick. I ran.

I didn’t stop running until I was safely home. I told the villagers what had happened. No one blamed me, not even Patrick’s family, but I felt ashamed. I had not tried to help my friend.

As the years passed I often wondered what had happened to Patrick. To be honest, I didn’t even know if he was alive. And then one day down at the sea – six long years later - I saw a boat draw close to the shore, its single sail flapping in the breeze. I crouched down among the long grass to hide. I was afraid. Had the raiders returned?

I watched, heart thudding, as men climbed out of the boat and heaved it up on to the beach. As soon as they’d gone, I stood up. It was then I saw that one of the men had stayed behind. He called my name. The man was in rags but as soon as he said my name I knew who it was. It was Patrick! I turned away. I felt ashamed. How could I face Patrick again? I, who had run away, and left him to his fate?

‘Old friend, do not be ashamed,’ he said. ‘There was nothing you could have done to help me. If you had stayed, they would have taken you away too.’ I told him I could not forgive myself so easily. ‘Listen,’ Patrick said. ‘I have something important to tell you. Across the sea, in Ireland, I found faith. For six years I was a slave. I worked for a farmer. I herded his sheep and pigs.’

Then Patrick told me how it was hard work. How at first he hated it. How he slept outside, or in the shed with the animals...was often cold and wet...with never enough to eat...how very unhappy he was. He told me how much he missed his home and family... how often he cried and wondered if he would ever see his family again.

‘Then, one day, something changed,’ Patrick told me. ‘I wondered if my suffering might be a punishment. God wanted me to share the faith of my father – he wanted me to believe.’

Then he told me how he knelt down and prayed. He prayed to God every day. And he felt God’s spirit grow strong inside him. He no longer felt tired, sick or cold. He did his work – but now with joy in his heart.

‘And then,’ said Patrick, ‘one day I managed to escape. I stowed away in this boat. I have returned to see my family. But I have work to do, too. God’s work. I must share with others what I have learned.’

The villagers stared curiously at us as we approached the village. They did not recognise Patrick... (CONT'D)

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