Priest who officiated at Buncrana funeral reflects on grief
Turbulent life of clerical vocation recalled at Holy Thursday Masses across Ireland
Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin recalled how “when I visited the family home in Derry of those who lost their lives at Buncrana pier on Sunday, I could see first hand the merciful outreach of the local priest and community at a time of unspeakable pain and loss”.
When the priest who officiated at the funerals today of those five people who died in last Sunday’s Buncrana calamity first heard the news he “said a prayer for the poor priest who would have to officiate at the funerals”, not realising it would be himself.
Fr Paddy O’Kane did not know he “would have to speak the Lord into the cold dark waters of awful grief that have affected so many people in this city and far beyond”, recalled Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown.
In a homily at the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass in Derry’s St Eugene’s Cathedral, he said priestly “ministry in this or any other society puts enormous pressure on the individuals who have to respond. They have to handle unspeakable grief and anger – and know how to celebrate the joys of being human. They have to know when to speak words into the pain and when to recognise that helpless silence speaks louder than words.”
During the Chrism Mass in each Catholic diocese on Holy Thursday priests, deacons and representatives of the entire diocesan community gather around their bishop, who blesses the Holy Oils for use in the coming year.
At the Chrism Mass in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the priest’s role was “not a mission to judge or to condemn, but to witness in love so as to allow God’s mercy embrace those whose hearts are broken or wounded or indeed whose hearts have hardened”.
He recalled Pope Francis saying that “closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the church’s teachings in order to judge others, sometimes with superiority and superficiality”. As priests “we must preach the message Jesus Christ in its integrity, but never our own judgmentalism,” he said. Nowadays . . . priests were concerned, Ireland was “not always a friendly society. We can feel isolated,” he said.
In Cobh Cathedral Bishop of Cloyne William Crean said many in Ireland today “do not understand the call of priesthood even to the point of seeing it as a waste of a life”. He continued: “To a degree the bad practice of the past haunts us. Poor theology of ministry led to well-intentioned but controlling service of the people. To shed the shackles of that past is difficult.
“We protest that things are different now but many do not believe us. It is very difficult emotionally to be constantly at the receiving end of continuous vitriol and denigration.”
At the Chrism Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Bishop of Ossory Séamus Freeman said lack of vocations there “has reached crisis point with the average age of the priest 67 years”.
It concerned him greatly. It was “not the easiest time to be a priest, but it’s not the worst of times.” Everyone present had “our own personal struggles in life – our own personal challenges – nothing in life that is of such goodness comes easy”, he said.
At St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh, Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin thanked priests for walking with the people “and helping them carry the pain of bereavement, disappointment, illness, failure and relationship breakdown”.
He recalled how on Wednesday night “when I visited the family home in Derry of those who lost their lives at Buncrana pier on Sunday, I could see first hand the merciful outreach of the local priest and community at a time of unspeakable pain and loss”, he said.
No doubt in Brussels “priests and pastoral workers are holding the hands of the injured, whispering comfort to the bereaved, lifting up the sorrowful. This is the work of mercy that is at the heart of our calling as priests,” he said.