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Warm welcomes up North

sup_gen_belfast_01Sunday 13th. After the mass in Gardiner Street and the reception in Belvedere, Father General took the road north to Belfast. A keen observer of the reality around him, by the time the car reached Newry he was ready to ask where the place called ‘Amach’ was and why it was signposted at every off-ramp on the motorway. In his talk in the Connor Theatre at the University of Ulster he acknowledged the presence of the many people who have welcomed the Jesuits to Portadown, Belfast and Armagh over the years. When he spoke from his text he acknowledged the great range of commitments of Jesuits and their friends in the North: spiritual, theological, social, cultural, ecumenical, to dialogue, to reconciliation, etc. The great power of the talk, however, came in the frequent moments when he looked up and began to share from the rich experience of his own heart and his own life. Some people in the audience were challenged when he spoke of the influence in Japan of the witness of people in a ‘Christian’ country like Ireland. Fr General concluded his fine remarks by expressing gratitude to the crowd. He said that Jesuits are learning how to be ‘men of depth’ from those with whom they walk the road in Northern Ireland and throughout the world. For all of us, a dialogue of peace and understanding is born out of this experience of ‘growing, suffering and loving’ with others.

There were four inputs from the floor. Mary O’Connor opened with the words ‘Ignatius Loyola changed my life’, and went on to talk about the revelation it was to find that her prayer and her life as a busy hospital doctor could be fully integrated. She is now involved in the Down and Connor Prayer Guides and expressed a passion for sharing the treasure with others.

Michael McCooe spoke of his years of involvement in the local community of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown. “We built a community centre, a wooden one, and it was burnt down. We built it again in bricks and mortar.” Difficult issues were confronted. There were successes and failures. The Mayfair Centre has provided numerous local people with the chance of running their own business.

Helen Killick, Protestant chaplain in Lagan College, shared something of her own ecumenical journey which started at home in Scotland, led to membership of the Iona Community and has brought her to Belfast. She spoke with gratitude of the support of Jesuits and other Religious along the way.

Nuala O’Loan (pictured here with Father General), recently appointed to the House of Lords, spoke of the legacy of hurt that weighs so heavily on many people and the challenge to people of faith to commit themselves to the dialogue that can bring healing. She drew on her experiences as Police Ombudsman and on her more recent work as Irish government envoy in Timor Leste.

Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, gave a gracious and thoughtful ‘thank you’ to Fr. General on behalf of the assembled crowd. The evening ended with a light reception for our 120 or so guests. Our Fr General delighted in personally greeting nearly everyone present; the smiles and warmth in the room further revealing an occasion enjoyed by all.

Monday 14th. Father General had a great welcome and a hearty Ulster Fry for breakfast with Cardinal Brady. He was suitably impressed with the marvellous refurbishment of St Patrick’s Cathedral and lingered a few moments on the steps looking across at the site of Patrick’s monastery and first church.

On to Iona in Portadown. After mass with the Northern Jesuits and a delicious lunch which included home-made gazpacho John Dardis and Alan McGuckian left Fathers Adolfo and Antoine to Belfast International airport. The two travellers went off happily, Father General still declaring that in his experience it ‘never rains in Ireland’.