In 2009, after a period of several months recovering from what was assumed to be cerebral malaria, I arrived in Ballintubber and Ballymoe parish in Elphin diocese. I volunteered to spend 2 months in a relief role, working for the first time in an Irish Church situation. I left, over a decade later, in 2020!
Looking back, I can say that, facilitated greatly by the people of Ballintubber and Ballymoe parish, rural life in the west of Ireland suited me immensely. Gradually putting in place the basic necessities of parish administration and learning from the experience of my 12 years in Angola, I identified leadership potential in my new pastoral situation. Leadership was easily promoted at parish level but was complicated by diocesan and institutional structures that were not always life-giving. Joined by John Laizer in the parish some six months after I had begun, I started to think about new spaces to meet parishioners and others who had minimal or no contact with the Church, and how to build trust and a bridge within the community. Playing pool again for the first time since my youth and taking part in social dancing, I got to know people I wouldn't otherwise have known, and celebrated the sacraments with them, including funerals of some I encountered at the Pool table. I went to the local farmers' mart fortnightly, meeting buyers and sellers of cattle and sheep, and eventually getting to understand the mart's intricacies. Spiritans facilitated the celebration of weekly Mass and more in Castlerea Prison, as we opted to be part of the chaplaincy team.
I really enjoyed every aspect of living in Ballintubber / Ballymoe. It gave me back a sense of purpose, confidence as a leader, and an acceptance of the present. The local bishop one day asked if I would consider becoming a priest of his diocese full time, his proposal would have meant my leaving the Spiritan Missionary Congregation that I belonged to. I was glad he asked this question; it helped me to make a decision regarding my future, recognising that what I wanted was to return to work with those who were the poorest and the most abandoned.
On a holiday, I went to meet the Spiritan leadership team in Portugal where I first learnt Portuguese before spending twelve years in Angola from 1995; the Provincial there outlined the diverse range of their activities. It was immediately clear to me that this was where I now wished to work and flourish as a human being.
On leaving Ballintubber / Ballymoe in June 2020, I took time to deal with my own health issues and I have been lucky enough to spend time at home caring for my mother. I had hoped to take up a new appointment in Lisbon as Chaplain to Migrants in early 2021. However, like everybody else I have had to wait for vaccinations. Grateful for the experience that I have had to date in both Africa and Ireland, I now write these few words from Lisbon, at the beginning of a new adventure working with Migrants.