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True Stories in Modern Ministry: from Derry, Ireland

March 4, 2013
derry by night
Reverend Brendan Collins is a Catholic Deacon for the Diocese of Derry, presently based in pastoral ministry in Northern Ireland.  After high school Deacon Brendan studied Business at University and worked in retail management before entering seminary in 2006.  He was a member of the International Liturgy Group for World Youth Day in Australia 2008 and the following year he completed a summer assignment with Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation.  After three years of study at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, he returned home and since July 2011 he has been based at the parish of Templemore (St. Eugene’s Cathedral and St. Columba’s Church Long Tower) in Derry City.
Over the coming months Deacon Brendan will share with us aspects of his ministry in a busy City parish and in this time as he prepares for his ordination to the priesthood.  In an ever challenging over secular world and following the crises that has rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland we hear how one man wants to try and make a difference in a city with strong ecumenical divisions.
By Deacon Brendan Collins
(S+L) Derry City, Ireland
The story of my journey towards priesthood is one which was historically considered the exception but now seems to be more the norm.  After completing my High School examinations I went off to regular University to study Business, following this I worked in retail management in Belfast for a year before entering seminary in 2006. I was ordained Deacon on 25th April 2011 in the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome by Bishop Seamus Hegarty; Diocese of Derry.
Since July 2011 I have been based at the parish of Templemore, we have two Churches; St. Eugene’s Cathedral and St. Columba’s Church Long Tower, it is here that I have had my first full year of ministry and where I have experienced what is involved in the life of a diocesan priest.  This I believe to be the best training; to be fully immersed in the day to day life of a parish, to fully understand the role of the priest.  The parish has a catholic population of approximately 16,000 people, the clergy of the parish is made up of four priests and one deacon and with the wide range of volunteers who support the day to day running of the parish together with the employees.
Some of the projects I have been working on since I have arrived here have come about through my interactions with people in the parish.  We have been working on a food bank project for the City of Derry piloting it in a local area and hoping to develop this to other areas.  Together with other local denominations we are working on setting up a few initiatives within the City.  All of this I see as important to the Church’s mission in living out the gift of our common desire to serve the Lord while helping those in need.  In reference to the documents of the second Vatican council, which I believe can provide great encouragement, and referring in particular to Ad Gentes; the decree of the Church’s missionary activity we are told; “So all the children of the church should have a lively consciousness of their own responsibility for the world,”  later in this paragraph, “This fervor in the service of God and their love for others will be like a new spiritual breeze throughout the whole church, which will appear as a raised up among the nations, ‘the light of the world’ (Mt 5:14) and ‘the salt of the earth’ (Mt 5:13).  This witness of their life will achieve its effect more easily if it is borne in union with other Christian bodies.”  (AG, 36)  In this Year of Faith called for by Pope Benedict we are asked to look again at the documents from the Second Vatican Council.  Coming from Northern Ireland and in the current climate of tension I feel it is important for us to share with one another, to support each other without watering down or reducing what we believe in but showing respect for one another.  “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the main concerns of second Vatican council.”  Unitatis Redintegratio; the decree on Ecumenism also tells us, “There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion.  For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way.  We should therefore pray to the holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble, gentle in the service of others and to have an attitude of generosity towards them.” (UR, 7)
This year the City of Derry are hosting the European City of Culture.  This is a great opportunity for our City to show to others the historical aspects of the City which has shaped and formed the people who live here.  Many events have been planned to mark this event and so we are to become proud of this City and to show to others by our example how we have grown.
On a personal note
Firstly I have to acknowledge my delight in being asked by Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation to write these articles about ministry in the Diocese of Derry.  I do hope these will be of some interest as I share with you something of life in a city parish in these times of turmoil for the Catholic Church in Ireland and how one tries to make a positive impact.
I would like also to acknowledge my great love for Salt and Light Television and to congratulate them on this their 10th Anniversary -  ad multos annos!  How I came to know about Salt and Light Television is very interesting. It all began with an introduction to Fr Thomas Rosica C.S.B at World Youth Day in Australia in 2008.  Following a brief conversation at this meeting and a follow up when Fr Rosica visited Rome, I was invited to come to Toronto to gain some experience about Catholic Media by ‘joining the team’.  This now seems like a distant memory but a friendship I have been fortunate to continue.
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(photo by Sean McLean / wikipedia commons)