STATEMENT OF BISHOP DONAL McKEOWN
NEW BISHOP OF DERRY TO THE PEOPLE OF THE DIOCESE
25 February 2014, St. Eugene’s Cathedral
Your Excellency Archbishop Charles Brown, people, priests and religious of the Diocese of Derry, agus a chairde go léir!
We all know that things in life can change very quickly. Man proposes but God disposes. It is only six days since my work in Belfast was interrupted by an invitation to go to Dublin to meet the Apostolic Nuncio that afternoon. Archbishop Brown’s words still ring in my ears – “the Holy Father has chosen you to be Bishop of Derry”. They sound so disarmingly simple!
However, as we prepared for this announcement this morning in the beautiful Saint Eugene’s Cathedral, I began to realise just what an enormous task is involved. Leadership is not easy – in Church, business, politics, sport or family. I grew up not far from the River Bann and have passed through this historic city many times – but much of the area covered by the diocese of Derry is new to me. All of my 37 years as a priest have been spent in Down and Connor – and almost all of that in Belfast. So moving to the banks of the Foyle means leaving behind streets and families where I have felt at home. It means moving aside from the network of relations and friendships that have been such an integral part of my being a priest. They have helped to keep my feet on the ground – and reminded me of the advice that one wise bishop gave me: “If the Holy Spirit has picked you for the person that you are, be sure that, when he comes back, he can still recognise you!”
But the Scriptures are clear that faith is never about moving forward with confidence in ourselves. Everyone – from Abraham and Moses through Saints Eugene and Columba to modern men and women of faith – knows that we are called to let God be God in our lives and to allow the Lord to lead. I have the words of Saint Paul in our second reading last Sunday ringing in my ears, “if anyone of you thinks of himself as wise, then he must learn to be a fool before he can be really wise” (1 Cor 3:18).
So, I may come here, wondering what I have to offer – but I come with the knowledge that many solid foundations have been laid in the Church of this diocese. Indeed this city has, for many decades, developed its own sense of independence and cultural pride, epitomised in the City of Culture celebrations last year. The local communities in Derry have found ways of cherishing diversity rather than fearing it. And local people of faith from across the Churches have played prominent roles in civic society. You have shown what it means to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
I know that many people across the diocese have suffered hard times. The Troubles scarred many lives and we know from the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse that many people have terrible memories of their upbringing. Dungiven, and its surroundings, have very recently suffered the loss of many jobs at KPL – just as this area no longer has its long tradition of shirt making.
But Pope Francis has given us all huge encouragement to be people of faith in the realities of our time and environment. There is no solid future that can be built on pride, revenge, greed or scorn for others who are weaker or different from ourselves. The Church is not just for ‘people like us’. Pope Francis wrote recently that all we do in Church has to be “channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (Evangelii Gaudium/The Joy of the Gospel 27).
So I arrive here with much enthusiasm – not based on my own experience – rather with trust in the goodness of so many people and with confidence in the foolishness of the Gospel that is wiser than human wisdom. If we place ourselves in the hands of the Lord, he will lead us as we try to follow Pope Francis’ call that each particular Church should “undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform” (EG 30). Renewal will take place, only if we go out of ourselves, not into ourselves.
When I googled the name Saint Eugene, I saw that his name in Irish was Eoghan. In Irish, my own surname is MacEoghain – and part of Tír Eoghain lies in this diocese, as well as Inis Eoghain. Ag tús ár dturas le chéile guímis trí idir-ghuí ár naomh áitiúla – Colm, fear na síochána agus Eoghan fear na bpaidreacha doimhne. And I pray that I may be able to become a MacEoghain, idir anam agus corp in the service of the people of God in this diocese.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen.