My six years in the missions has been a very satisfying and heart-warming experience. It was a difficult journey both personal and work yet I would say I have been blessed with a mission area that has given me a sense of heaven on earth. At this moment, all my heart can say is GRATITUDE.
Ballymun when I first arrived in the summer of 2008 was on its peak of the government’s regeneration programme due to massive anti-social behaviour especially of the younger generation. Drug dealing/using, binge drinking, vandalism, littering are just few of the problems that the Dublin City council is facing. There was not a week that we don’t see a getaway car burnt in the park, near the shopping centre and worst, in front of our house. Lads hanging around the flats, we did not know what they’re up to. Ballymun is a haven of illegal activities. Also, there is a huge number of suicides among young adult. I was petrified.
2008 was also the height of the investigation and reports about clerical abuses. The religious and church were named and shamed. More and more TV programs and even ads are very satirical about them. As a result, trust with the clerics and in the church was breached. There was a huge decrease of mass goers even from the older generation. They were disillusioned. A great number of people became cynical and sarcastic about the whole business of the church. Three generations were lost (35-45years old, young adults and teenagers). This is very evident in Ballymun. I felt it was very rough and very tough. I asked myself, ‘was I wrong to choose this place when I had the opportunity to say no, when there were options in the countryside parishes?’
But the heart of a missionary prevailed in me. I took the challenge and told myself ‘bring it on’ as the Irish would say when they bring their football/hurling clubs and race to Croagh Park for the GAA matches.
Indeed the challenge was on! There were so much that I have to unlearn, learn and relearn. Loads of times I felt so discouraged, disappointed, disillusioned. People I worked with were tired to create avenues for parishioners to get involved and participate. Every time there is a suggestion they chorused “been there, done that, nothing happen, never again!” Dealing with the environment was tough enough, how much more with the people I worked with? It took me courage to be patient.
Whoever said that ‘patience is a virtue’ really is a virtuous person. I learned the virtue of patience and learned to let go and let God and everything fall into place. I became open to every opportunity I met along the way – especially in establishing relationships and friendships with people. I saw a different perspective. People also became open of my presence and accepting of who I am. I felt there was a grand exchange and appreciation of each others’ giftedness, a joyful presence of one another. The following episodes of my journey just flowed much easier and flew very quickly.
But of course, this doesn’t mean a bed of roses. Like every journey there is always bumpy jagged road that make the journey more interesting and challenging. All I am confident about is that when the journey gets tough, it’s worth trusting that my God has been very faithful with me. God is always there to guide and protect me, to support me in every way.
After six years, nothing much changed in Ballymun. There are still occasional troubles. Anti-social behaviour still very much present, some people are still cynical about the church. However, I would say that with the concerted effort of the three parishes in Ballymun, support from the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Columbans in the region, we can create alternative and better ways for people especially the youth to engage in the church as a community of faith. And that they will have personal relationship with Jesus and experience the healing, loving and compassionate God.
Personally, I still ask myself why did I choose Ballymun, why I stayed, why did I do the things I did, what kept me going? I guess this time, it is how I can be more of the mission given Ballymun as my mission area and to be much aware of my own purpose in life. It was rough and tough yet having experienced the generosity, kindness and openness of the people and their willingness to do something for their community despite their circumstances, was for me enough to get my journey going.
I would say that I have been blessed being assigned in Ballymun. I am very much grateful for the call to participate God’s mission in Ballymun through the Society of St. Columban. The region of Ireland is very supportive and appreciative of the presence and efforts of Lay Missionaries and that itself is an assurance for the Lay Missions in Ireland to continue. I am thankful to God for the gift of mission and the people who made my journey worth taking. A greatest gift indeed!