The Church needs speech and language therapists

The Church needs speech and language therapists The 5th faith and life convention keynote address delivered by Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga
Down & Connor Faith and Life Convention
We need to learn a new way to reach those who do not feel themselves part of the Church, writes Paula McKeown


The last Saturday in September is now permanently blocked out in my diary, as it is on that date that we in the Diocese of Down and Connor hold our Faith and Life Convention.

It is one of the many events organised by the Living Church Office since the diocese launched its pastoral plan five years ago. We have been delighted over the last five years to have had a great variety of keynote speakers John Allen Jr, Alan McGuckian SJ,  Sarah Teather, Cardinal Kevin Farrell and last week Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga.

Held in Our Lady and St Patrick’s College, Belfast, the Faith and Life Convention has a great atmosphere.

As soon as delegates arrive, they are hugging people they haven’t seen for a while, checking their name badges to see which workshops they are allocated to and buying new books from exhibitors before quickly making their way into the hall to get a good seat. It’s great to be at a Catholic event where people want to be in the front row!

At all of these gatherings I am always convinced that the Holy Spirit will move and indeed have a word for each person that gathers, be it in a conversation, over coffee, or an insight offered during a workshop.

I found myself being captivated when Cardinal Maradiaga started to speak about the ever-changing nature of humanity and how we must come to understand the new humanity, and to know what is happening in the lives of the people of Down and Connor.

He said we also needed to learn anew how to communicate with the world and people around us – we need, he said, speech and language therapy. “How can we reach out to this new humanity if we don’t know the language of today’s world?” the cardinal asked.

We need to re-learn. There is no doubt that we need speech therapists to help us communicate with this new world. Imagine my surprise when I heard these words, because before I came to work for the diocese I was a speech and language therapist! I have seen first-hand the power of helping someone to communicate with those around her or him.

I have seen frustration subside, health return and relationships flourish. Indeed, recently I have found much joy in helping my own son Lorcán to communicate.

Though tough at times, speech therapy is worth the effort. As a diocese, we are now five years into our pastoral plan. This pastoral plan came out of a period of listening that took place in each of our 87 parishes. We heard from thousands of people in that process. This rich communication led to a plan that has helped us in the diocese to take steps towards being the Church Jesus would have us be.


Hearing the cardinal’s words at our convention confirmed my own thinking that we may well be called to listen afresh to all of the people; to learn together once more how to communicate with each other within the Church and, essentially, to learn a new language in order to communicate to those who, for whatever reason, do not see themselves as being part of the Church.

Tough as this may well be, undertaking some speech therapy and listening to those around us is sure to help us in the Diocese of Down and Connor take the next steps on the journey of revealing the Living Church.

Paula McKeown is Director of the Living Church Office in the Diocese of Down and Connor.