Reconciliation, and the support of community effort, have always engaged Iona, the small Jesuit group in Portadown. In the last two months all four of them travelled to Limerick to study parallel efforts there, especially in Moyross where another Jesuit, Tony O’Riordan, is a curate. Back in Portadown the community welcomed a visit from the Migrations Officer of the Conference of European Provincials, who was impressed by Iona’s success in improving community relations. In December the death of Declan Deane, who had spent most of the 1980s in Iona, saw an outpouring of grief by those who remember him fondly. Many people in Portadown had accompanied him in his long illness with prayer and visits. Brendan McPartlin reports from Iona. We dedicated a regular evening mass in the parish church to Declan’s memory. Brian Lennon spoke about him to a sizeable congregation on a night of packed snow and temperatures well below zero. It was too hot in the house when people squeezed in for a cup of tea. There were many tears for Declan and stories recounted.
In late November all four members of Iona travelled to Limerick by train (courtesy free travel) to meet the Dooradoyle community. JRS in Limerick had participated in the Limerick City Council’s plan to integrate immigrant communities into the life of the city, and it was an instructive to compare it with Craigavon Borough Council’s parallel aspiration which helped to focus Iona’s migrant support services.
Tony O’Riordan showed us around the Moyross housing estate. The comparison between the community centre in Moyross and that in Churchill estate was interesting. The Drumcree Community Trust and its centre were set up in the 1990s by Jesuits and people to enable the local community to identify and plan for its needs. This led to community development, community education, youth work and a community health initiative. There are clubs, projects and activities for children and young people; parents receive support through various programmes; the House of Health hosts many initiatives; the issue of new communities of immigrant people was identified and now a Migrant Support Service is in operation. In response to the need for employment creation, a Business Centre was set up on another site on the Garvaghy Road. This has nurtured many small businesses and trained people for employability. With Iona community providing pastoral the spiritual services, the Drumcree Community Centre providing community social services and Mayfair Business Centre fostering economic development, although at a low work rate, an impressive structure of community development has emerged. The Moyross community centre was bigger, provided more services and seemed more dynamic. Funding may explain the difference but each can learn from the other.
The Conference of European Provincials sent its Migrations Officer to visit Portadown in December and his perception was based on the category of reconciliation. He was impressed by the work for right relations going forward through the various activities. I was impressed myself the following week when a joint forum of about 200 catholics and protestants assembled in the town hall to discuss ways of working together and minimising barriers. They will hopefully find ways of following through on this initiative and there will be more to report in the future.