16 January 2006

Silver celebrations for St Luke’s parish, Twinbrook


Twinbrook, one of the largest estates in West Belfast, is finally enjoying a comfortable standard of living as we found out when we spoke to Fr John Murray, parish priest of St Luke's Church situated at the entrance of the estate.
Fr Murray has been presiding over the area since August 1998 and is looking forward to a year filled with celebration as the church prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary in March.
“There have certainly been economic improvements across the area in my time here," said Fr Murray.
“There was a time when Twinbrook had a bad name, even this morning someone had said that to me, but I believe that the area has not been merited for its achievements.
“There is little real poverty in this parish any more. I would say that in excess of 96 per cent of people who live here live in tidy, comfortable homes, they are not rich but they are comfortable, which is an improvement.
“People are enjoying the peace dividend here and despite the political logjam, life is continuing in a peaceful way."
Twinbrook is one of the lucky areas that has not been overrun by developers in recent years, leaving residents with a substantial area of green fields and playing pitches for the younger children to play in.
“I know that some areas have problems with youth provision, thankfully for our parish this isn't a problem. The parish is blessed with four full length pitches for gaelic, hurling and soccer as well as the all-weather pitch at Brook Activity Centre and the new flood-lit astro turf pitches which Kevin Smyth (principal of St Mark's Primary School) and Joanne Brown (former principal of St Luke's Primary School) put an awful lot of time and money into to make them a reality. People are always quick to criticise the area but it is people like this who deserve some credit."
In religious terms, Fr Murray is happy to report a regular attendance of almost 4,000 parishioners to his church every week.
“In this community, there is a nucleus of between 15 and 20 per cent of people who are regularly faithful, who come out to pray every week in St Luke's. Obviously there is a large percentage of people who are nominal Catholics, who don't attend Mass. Myself and Fr Darach Mac Giolla Catháin see this as a challenge to bring these people towards a deeper faith, to make their faith less superficial.
“A Catholic is not someone who is baptised, married and buried from the church. On the contrary. So to make faith an integral part of this vibrant community is our challenge.
“We try to tackle this problem through funerals and weddings where we provide the opportunity for catechises and teaching and we are always reaching out to the community."
As Vocation Director for the Diocese, Fr Murray is a man with very little time on his hands and is thankful that he can rely on his fellow priest, Fr Mac Giolla Catháin, and his neighbours, the Good Shepherd Sisters, to help him out.
“Anyone who is interested in the priesthood would come and speak to me and after a few years of getting to know them and accompaniment, they go on to apply for the priesthood. It is very time consuming and limits what I can do in the community.
“The Good Shepherd Sisters have been a great help and have been associated with the parish from the start back in 1976."
Looking ahead to the 25th anniversary celebrations, the Ballygowan born man is eager to get a number of social events organised.
“Bishop Walsh will be here on March 26 to celebrate the event with our parishioners, then we have the Confirmations the next day so it will be a busy time for us.
“We also have a pilgrimage to the Holy Land scheduled for September, we have about 25 parishioners going on a direct flight from Belfast to Tel Aviv. There are still places available for the 10 day trip so if anyone is interested they can contact me."
Despite his myriad of duties Fr Murray has never lost sight of what really matters and is determined to do his best in the parish he loves to ensure that his parishioners put God at the centre of their lives.
“My primary purpose is to bring people to Christ. If Christ is the focus then everything else will work out fine.
“We are hoping to introduce the ALPHA project over the next few years here in the parish to help us do this, it is a system that began in the Anglican church in England.
“It is a powerful outreach to both the churched and unchuurched in the community and requires only one night per week of people's time where they take part in a discussion about religion. The programme is run over and over again in a bid to reach out that bit further every time.
“I feel very strongly about the pastoral side of things and my focus is very much to keep God to the fore in people's hearts and minds here in Twinbrook."

Journalist:: Francesca Ryan

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