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Joyful end to sad week for Diocese of Derry and Raphoe

A week of vast emotional contrasts for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe ended on a joyful note late on Sunday afternoon with the installation of the Rt Rev Andrew Forster as Bishop of Raphoe at a service in St Eunan’s Cathedral. It took place just over 24 hours after one of the bishop’s predecessors as Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, the Rt Rev Dr James Mehaffey, was commended to God at a service in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry.

Bishop Andrew Forster strikes the door of St Eunan's Cathedral with his pastoral staff, during the Service of Installation in Raphoe.
Bishop Andrew Forster strikes the door of St Eunan's Cathedral with his pastoral staff, during the Service of Installation in Raphoe.

The relief in Raphoe was almost palpable as parishioners and friends from across the community gathered to celebrate an historic occasion for the diocese. The Republic’s Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, was among those who filled the Cathedral to witness Bishop Forster accepting his mandate and being placed in the Episcopal Seat of the Cathedral Church of Saint Eunan by the Dean of Raphoe, the Very Rev Arthur Barrett.

There were representatives present from right across civic life – from An Garda Siochana, education, business, the health sector, community groups, scouting and guiding organisations – as well as from the four main Churches. Also present was the Bishop of Mahajanga in Madagascar, the Rt Rev Hall Speers, originally from the Parish of Urney near Strabane, who returns to his diocese in the Indian Ocean on Monday.

In his sermon, Bishop Forster recalled the words of Archbishop Richard Clarke at the Service of Consecration in Armagh Cathedral just over a month ago, when the Primate handed over the pastoral staff – the crozier – of the Diocese: “Keep watch over the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd; encourage the faithful; restore the lost; and build up the body of Christ.”

It was, Bishop Forster suggested, a “solemn call to any person, any bishop.” He recalled two men who had held the same office as him previously, one a namesake – Bishop Nicholas Forster – and Dr James Mehaffey.

When the first Bishop Forster died in the middle of the 18th century, he left one thousand guineas to the Diocese – the equivalent of £160,000 nowadays. The current Bishop Forster drew laughter from the congregation when he shared what was written on his predecessor’s gravestone: ‘What he has left let gratitude tell. May his successors imitate him.’ “I would need a substantial pay rise to be able to leave £160,000,” the new Bishop said.

Bishop James Mehaffey, who died last week, was remembered with great thankfulness and gratitude. In the most difficult days, Bishop Andrew said, Bishop Mehaffey was a living example of reconciling love and a man to whom people mattered. “And what Jim lived out was that as he reached out to those who were seen as ‘other’ and seen as different, that they came to recognise in each other that they were all made in the image of God, with all the dignity and worth and value that that brings.’”

There were over 200 years, the preacher said, between Bishop Nicholas Forster and Bishop Mehaffey, but yet they lived out their call to keep watch over the flock over which the Holy Spirit had appointed them shepherd, to encourage the faithful, to restore the lost and to build up the body of Christ. What motivated men like them, Bishop Andrew Forster asked, to forsake all to follow Christ? “What motivates God’s people down through the years to reach out to those in spiritual and physical need?

“You see, I’m asking the wrong question. It’s not about what motivates them; it’s who motivates them? And the answer is Jesus.” Bishop Andrew said being a follower of Jesus was the most wonderful thing in the world. “It’s because of Jesus, it’s because of Him, that I pledge to you that my heart’s desire to serve you is as someone who will keep watch over a flock ‘which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd’; that I will encourage the faithful; restore the lost; and build up the body of Christ.

“Why? Because of Him. Because of Jesus. Because I know of no one else who can heal broken hearts; no one else who can put the shattered pieces of people’s lives back together; no one else who can bring hope, who can bring courage, who can bring faith and life; no one can do it like Jesus.

“Today,” Bishop Forster said, “I proclaim Him to you because that’s all I can do, that’s all I can do as your bishop, and what we do together is proclaim and share the love of Christ. And we do it together, together as the family of God, together in this Diocese, and we do it together because of Him. His love motivates. His love empowers. His love blesses. His love leads us all. His love changes things. His love brings hope. His love brings peace. And it’s in His name that I seek to serve you.”

After the service, members of the congregation made their way to the parish hall for a rather splendid tea and for speeches by Dean Barrett, Minister McHugh, the Rev Colin McKibbin from the Presbyterian Church and the Rev Richard Johnston from the Methodist Church. Bishop Alan McGuckian was unable to attend but was represented by the Parish Priest of Raphoe, Fr Eamonn Kelly.

In the final speech, Bishop Forster encouraged people to pray for political representatives north and south as they sought to build up communities and build up our common life. He urged people not to be too hard on politicians and he led those present in a prayer for members of the Dáil and of the newly–restored Northern Ireland Assembly.