Homily notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Mass of Thanksgiving in Parish of the Travelling People

29 Sep 2016

Farewell and Thanksgiving for the Ministry of Father Derek Farrell

Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsborough, 29th September 2016

“We celebrate the Feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Our modern society knows very little about angels. It is not just that we are cautious in talking about the existence of anything that we cannot see or does not fit within our own thought categories. The temptation is to think more and more in an individualistic way. We can become focussed entirely on individual advancement and individual achievement.

The teaching about angels helps us first of all to realise that God’s creation forms a unity in which many things are distinct but also interrelated. God’s created the entire cosmos and all within it out of love. Everything within God’s creation has its own purpose and was created within a wonderful harmony. We humans have been given the challenge to ensure that that harmony always prevails. Each person, each community, each people, every element and species in creation has its own purpose. If we damage one element of creation, we damage every element.

The environmental movement has certainly drawn our attention to this fact and Pope Francis has stressed the importance for the Christian always to be respectful of God’s creation. Being faithful to God’s creation also strengthens the life of humans. If creation reveals to us God’s plan, then we believers in God have the obligation to respect, foster and protect the environment and to respect every individual human being and his or her ability to fully realise the potential given to them by God.

I have spoken only recently about how our attitude towards the Travelling Community gives us sadly in indication of how we have failed in our response to that community and the right of its members to flourish as individuals and as a people. I noted: “The disadvantaged must always be given pride of place in policy making and allocation of funds. We have to address more effectively the needs of the members of the Travelling Community where all the indications are that they persistently remain among the most disadvantaged educationally”.

I did not personally see an RTE television documentary in these days on the suffering that members of the Travelling Community suffered in education and social care especially in industrial schools. What does that say about our attitude and respect for Travellers? Why were your young boys and girls treated in such a way?

If every element and species within God’s creation deserves protection, so also does the cultural heritage of any people and their own special identity. Traveller identity must be shielded, protected and fostered. It must be assigned legal protection in a manner which prizes an identity which is irreplaceable.

The existence of angels reminds us of another element about creation which the Travelling Community, despite its sufferings, has always managed to treasure. Angels remind us that God cares; that even if the Church has neglected the Travelling community God has not. The travelling community has a real sensitivity to the fact that God offers his blessing to all, especially to those who are most vulnerable.

The existence of angels also reminds us that all of creation is there to join with the angels in worshipping God and that God is to be blessed through every element of creation.

The parish of the Travelling Community is something which is unique. We all have reason to be grateful to Cardinal Connell for his foresight in establishing this unique parish which responds to the needs of Travellers. We also have reason to be grateful that the Parish is called Parish of the Traveling People and not for the Travelling people. It is an act of trust and confidence in the community to take the leading role in forms of pastoral care and religious development which responds to the culture, traditions and identity of travellers. I thank those who have taken on that responsibility.

This evening we come to say farewell to Father Derek Farrell and to give thanks to God and to Father Derek himself for his ministry over these years. Father Derek is a true friend of the Travelling People. In his ministry he did not seek any great publicity for himself but placed his talents fully at the service of the travellers and their place in society.

I remember when I first asked Fr Derek to take on this ministry. He was somewhat surprised to be asked and as always with Derek he did not give me an immediate response. Derek is the sort of priest who will only take on a ministry when he is sure that he will be able to carry it out one-hundred-percent. He knew that this task would be one which would involve him, to use the words of our first reading, in “fighting the good fight of faith” and “speaking up for the truth”.
You know just how much Father Derek loved his work and loved those who were entrusted to his care. You will have seen how in moments of great trial for you his first reaction was to be moved himself to tears experiencing your pain. His words of consolation were never empty words or formulae, but words which brought some insights from the message of Jesus Christ to help him and you to bear tragedy. Seeing the tears in your eyes brought tears to him also.

The ministry of the priest is a ministry called to bring the wisdom of the message of Jesus to help all of us to understand life in a deeper way. That wisdom cannot be learned through books, but comes only from someone who has opened his own heart and mind to fathom the wisdom of God and the loving care of Jesus Christ.

That was the unique talent of Father Derek. Now I had better stop praising him or I might give the impression that we were at his funeral and not here to thank him and wish him well as he takes time to refresh himself and his ministry and to wish him well in whatever ministry he takes on in the future.

When I first asked Derek to take on this ministry he told me that he knew very little about the Travelling Community. He cannot say that today, rather we know that he now moves forward to a new stage in his priestly life and ministry as someone really renewed and strengthened in his calling from what he has received from you and from the Travelling People. Derek: God’s speed in the years to come. We will remember you in our prayers.