Derry Diocese celebrates family

Derry Diocese celebrates family The Neils family from St Mary's parish in Cregan, Co. Derry, pictured with the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, and the Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown at 'A Celebration of Family' event.
Fr Pat O’Hagan


In anticipation for the World Meeting of Families the Diocese of Derry held a conference entitled ‘A Celebration of Family’, which was organised by the diocesan working group set up by Bishop Donal McKeown in December 2016

The venue was St Mary’s College on Derry’s Northland Road, and it proved to be an excellent choice.  The Principal, Mrs Marie Lindsay, along with her Vice-Principals and other members of the teaching, support and administrative staff, made everyone feel very welcome. The facilities and the catering were excellent, from the welcoming tea and scones, through lunchtime to the afternoon tea and delicacies.

The day began with a video message from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, speaking as President of WMOF2018 and, to almost everyone’s surprise, a Derry man by birth! He wished everyone attending a fruitful time together, and expressed the wish to see many travelling to Dublin in August.

After some introductory words from myself and Mrs Lindsay, a liturgy of morning prayer was led by the Nelis family from St Mary’s parish, Creggan: John and Nicola Nelis, together with their five children, Nicola’s mother and sister-in-law. They spoke of the importance in their family, and in every family, of the three words/expressions highlighted by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’.


Delegates were asked to break into groups to discuss their reasons for attending the conference, what they hoped the day might achieve, and what they could bring to the area of family ministry in their parish or in the diocese as a whole.

The first speaker of the day was Gráinne Doherty, a native of the parish of Moville, a theologian and teacher who has worked in a variety of fields, and is currently giving talks and seminars, as well as speaking at conferences and other events around the country, while completing a doctoral thesis.

Gráinne spoke about Pope Francis’ vision for the family, as outlined in Amoris Laetitia, and how we, in our homes, our parishes and our communities, can implement that vision. Noting that Pope Francis has sometimes been accused of deviating from Church teaching, Gráinne showed how the present Pope’s teaching is very much in keeping with, and is simply an extension of, the teaching of his immediate predecessors, St John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

This was followed by some discussion in the groups. Gráinne took some feedback from the groups afterwards, but time constraints meant there was little room for comment.  After lunch Gerard Gallagher, a native of Strabane who now works in the Office for Evangelisation and Ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Dublin, spoke about how we might reach out to the young people of today, the group sometimes called ‘Generation Z’ or the ‘Millennials’.

At the end of his talk he asked the delegates to break into parish groups to discuss how they might address the area of family ministry in their parishes.

Fr Johnny Doherty, a native of Carndonagh in the Inis Eoghain deanery of the diocese of Derry, is a well-known member of the Redemptorist community who has given retreats in parishes all over the country, and who has been involved in marriage preparation and renewal for many years.

Fr Johnny spoke of the movement he founded almost 20 years ago. Having seen the need for prayer in one particular area of his ministry he set up the Movement of Continuous Prayer for Marriage and Family Life which encourages parish communities to adopt one day of each month during which parishioners will pray for one hour, from midnight to midnight, for all aspects of marriage and family life.

It’s the hope of the diocesan working group that parishes throughout the diocese will adopt a day so that each hour of each day of each month is covered, and that prayer is constantly being offered for marriages and families who need those prayers most. One of the advantages of taking on an hour’s prayer each month is that it can be done anywhere – in a church, in bed, at work or in the car.

If it isn’t possible to say formal prayers, whatever the person is doing for that particular hour can be offered up for the intentions of the movement.

The guest of honour at the conference was the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, who was making his first visit to the diocese of Derry since being appointed by Pope Francis last year. The Nuncio spent the whole day at the conference, mingling with delegates, joining in some of the group discussions and then offering Mass and preaching on the readings of the fifth Sunday of the year.

He asked delegates to appreciate and pray for their priests, borrowing his theme from St Paul’s words in the second reading. He also referred to the family themes in the reading from Job – a family man who was tempted by the devil, by his friends and even his wife, to abandon all faith in God, but who resisted and remained loyal to his Creator.

Archbishop Okolo also talked about the problem of pain and suffering in our world, how there’s no easy answer to that particular problem, but how we must all work together to alleviate the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters.

Since the weekend the diocesan working group have been working on keeping the spirit of the “Celebration” alive, encouraging the delegates to speak with their priests and with their Parish Pastoral Councils to promote family ministry throughout the diocese as it continues to celebrate a ‘Year of the Family’ (August 15, 2017 – September 8, 2018) and to prepare for the much anticipated expected Papal Visit to the WMOF in Dublin, and to being part of the great legacy of that event.

Fr Pat O’Hagan is the Diocesan Delegate of Derry to the WMOF2018 and chair of the diocesan working group.