Embargoed until 12.45pm on Thursday 8 January 2015.
A cloud hangs over Carlow this week, heavy, grey and heart-breaking. For the community of St. Leo’s, the tragedy of Tuesday has shocked and numbed us, and we find ourselves in this unwanted place of grief and sorrow. Our hearts go out to the families of Aisling, Niamh, Chermaine and Gemma; we ask God to be with them, to comfort them and to give them the strength that they will need in these days. We’re especially conscious of Chermaine’s sister, Leanne, of Niamh’s niece Rachel and Gemma’s cousins, who are all part of our school community, and of Dayna Kearney in hospital at this time; let us keep them in our prayers, together with all who mourn at this time. So many people have been affected by this, those who taught the girls, those who knew them when they were here in school; some of you may know them through family connections or know a family member. They were part of the community of St. Leo’s until they did their Leaving Certificate in 2013, and they stood for so much that is best in St. Leo’s. Their class chose some words from Dr Seuss as the theme for their graduation Mass: “You’re off to great places; today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so…get on your way!” We joked with them about whether or not Dr. Seuss was on the syllabus for Leaving Certificate English. Who guessed that this would be the mountain that was waiting. But certainly the enthusiasm, the joy, the hope and optimism of those words epitomised what these girls stood for. Their friendship, their sense of fairness, their care, the contribution they made to St. Leo’s – they embraced life, with all its beauty, its adventure and its challenges. St. Leo’s was all the richer for their presence; our world is all the poorer for their loss.
We turn to our God, as people have done for centuries, and ask why? Why this pain, this loss, this tragedy? The only answer God gives is the gift of his Son; we came here as a school community to celebrate that gift in our Carol Service before Christmas – the crib is still over there. And God’s Son came not to take any of that pain away, not to give us any easy answers. He came to be with us, to live as we live, and to die as we die; and in his dying, to promise a life without end in the resurrection,- to lead us and show us the way. That is our faith; that is at the heart of being a Christian – our belief in the resurrection. We believe that our God is with us at every moment of life, no matter how difficult that moment may be. Even in our grief, he is with us, even now. Death separates us from those we love, but only for a time. It seems so final, but they are not lost to us because they are with God and God is very near.
In the gospel, Christ invites us to come to him, to put our trust in him that he will lead us through these days and be a light to guide us in this dark time. The burden of grief is one of the heaviest to carry, especially when death has come in a tragedy such as the accident on Tuesday evening – but Christ asks us to come to him, to find our strength in his love and in his presence with us. It’s strange that Tuesday was the feast of the Epiphany, the day we remember how the wise men followed the star leading them to Christ through the dark nights of their journey. In the darkness of these days, may Christ be the light that guides us and all who mourn.
At a time like this, people wonder ‘what can we do?’ I ask you today to pray for these girls; pray for their families and their friends. They need the support of our prayers today, and that is why we are here.
We are confident that we will one day be reunited again with Aisling, Niamh, Chermaine and Gemma with all our loved ones who have died, when we will see Christ face to face. We entrust the girls to him now, and we ask him to welcome them home and to give their families all the loving support that they need at this time. May they rest in peace.
Father John Cummins is Administrator of the Cathedral Of the Assumption in Carlow in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. He is also Chaplain to Saint Leo’s College.