Ho Ho Holy water

At Knock Airport the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar watched a Catholic priest splash holy water on a runway, in order to make it safer than other airport runways that did not have holy water splashed on them. Everybody present stood solemnly, blessing themselves.

Father Richard Gibbon then gave the Taoiseach some holy water to bring to New York next week as added protection when meets Boris Johnson. Everybody present laughed loudly and applauded. The Taoiseach jokingly asked should he throw it over Boris, and Father Gibbon said that he could.

According to the Catholic Catechism, holy water forms part of a sacramental, which is a sacred sign that bears a resemblance to a sacrament. They always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water (which recalls Baptism).

So why would a priest who genuinely believes in the power of holy water make a joke about this sacred aspect of his faith? If Father Gibbon (or indeed anyone else at the ceremony) believes in the power of holy water, then why is it laughable to suggest that holy water can protect one person from another?

Alternatively, if Father Gibbon (or anybody else at the ceremony) does not believe in the power of holy water, then why are they standing solemnly and blessing themselves to mark the idea that holy water can protect airplanes that are landing on a specific runway?

Obviously, in reality, holy water is just ordinary water, above which a man has spoken some words. At best it can have no more than a placebo effect. At worst it can be actually harmful.

I outlined why a few years ago on the RTE programme Spirit level, during a panel discussion that included Father Gibbon from Knock. You can watch that excerpt in the video above.

I pointed out that infections in patients in hospitals throughout Europe had been traced back to holy water from Lourdes, and that over 86% of holy water from springs and churches around Europe had been found to be contaminated with the equivalent of faecal matter.

About 200 million people had traveled to Lourdes over the years. There had been 69 officially recognised miracles. So you had about one in 3 million chance of being cured. That’s less than the rates of spontaneous remission from cancer.

Also, there had been one cure in the past 25 years, so you had a better chance of dying at Lourdes than being cured for the past 25 years.

You can watch that part of the programme in the clip above, and you can watch the full programme below.

Ho Ho Holy water

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