I started my day in the normal way,
Breakfast , chat at the table, feed the dogs and cats before we left for Knock Shrine
During the drive my mind wandered to my many visits to Knock in the 1950’s and 1960’s A time when for the people from the north of Ireland our faith and belief in the Catholic Church was unquestioned, where because off our faith we constantly faced persecution, suppression, discrimination, were the church and its religious orders nursed our sick, delivered our babies, educated us to prepare for the world, where we where taught that education was the door to personal freedom As Christian brother Hanley often told us , ” they may take your clothes , your home and in some cases your life but they can never take your brain, your mind or your freedom of thought your education is your gate to freedom”.
As my journey continued my mind then turned to the more recent past and the reasons why I ended up disillusioned with the catholic church and its priests and nuns , the abuse of little children , the abuse of single mothers as they took their babies from them and sold them into other families like cattle at a mart as they forced many of them to leave their homeland in search of happiness as the trauma of their loss was unbearable many where lost to alcohol, drugs, and an early death, the slavery of the Magdalene laundries , the abuse of young people and children at the Artane boys home and the abuses carried on young men in Letterfrack County Galway and of course the abuse of girls in Golden Bridge.
HOW COULD ANYONE CALL THEMSELVES CATHOLIC OR CHRISTIAN ? HOW CAN I ONCE AGAIN ENTER A CATHOLIC CHURCH LOOK AT A PRIEST AND NOT WONDER ABOUT HIS ACTIONS WAS/IS HE ALSO GUILTY OF WRONG DOING? IS HE ALSO ONE OF THEM ?
So I lost trust, I lost faith in the church ,in its Priests its Nuns its Bishops and its Cardinals as they covered up the rot/ cancer that is /was within the Irish Catholic Church, so I became a total sceptic of the church , but I still held on to my own spiritually as I continued my own relationship with my god through daily prayer so my excursion to Knock was more to satisfy others than myself , So what was to happen was totally unexpected and remains totally unexplained by me.
We arrived at knock and I let my wife and my sister-in-law out of the car at the main gates to the old church as I went to park the car, to join them later.
When I returned I found the girls in the mass card shop buying mass cards after which we made our way to the Church for the mass , but I made a detour to the book shop for a look around , during which I found a number of books that I hope will be of benefit to me as I work through my illnesses mental and physical.
After this I proceeded to the main church and joined up with my wife and sister-in-law as we waited for the 3pm mass but this for me was not going to be your ordinary mass this was different there was a sanctity about it as up to 30 priests made their way around the alter to say a con- celebration mass for priests and to pray for more people to come forward to serve in the priest hood.
It was during the sermon given by a Fr Finnegan at this mass that my thoughts and attitude seemed to have changed.
For the first time I heard a priest ask for forgiveness and to acknowledge the wrongs committed by the church on the innocent children entrusted to their care, for the wrongs committed by his fellow priests on the young people they betrayed and destroyed their innocents and lives, who betrayed the church and their fellow priests and nuns this priest stood in front of the whole congregation of about a thousand people and asked us in all humility to forgive the church, he then went on to outline what are the real purpose of a priest, to serve their community to be that trusted hand of comfort to those in distress and sadness, to bring and work the gospel in word, deed, and example to his flock for which he is their Shepard.
This is the kind of priest that I had known the Fr Bradley’s the Fr O’Neill’s the Fr McAllister’s, these were as a young person and a boy I looked up to, who I served mass for , who where regular visitors to our home in times of great stress to offer comfort and prayers to our family when we needed them most
So now the question is ,”do I return to my faith do I give it another go”? do I do as Fr Finnegan asks and forgive and acknowledge the weaknesses of the church do I remove that pedestal ? BUT I HAVE A FEELING AFTER THE SERMON TODAY I MAY NOT HAVE TO , AS THE CHURCH IS NOW ON THE WAY TO DOING THAT THEMSELVES
THANK YOU Fr Finnegan for your passion and your truthfulness and yes I will give it another go.
A whole 3 years since I wrote this article many things have changed , my life has changed my world has changed , my life is getting shorter but my faith is getting stronger my fear of death gets less, I was to realise that we are on this world for a very short time ,
During these later years , we get time to evaluate and look at our lives , and ask how did we do , how did our guardianship of our children’s work how do they express themselves , did we give them the education , the compassion for others not as well off as you ,did they raise their arm against injustice and bigotries