With churches remaining closed, one Irish priest has decided to take church to his community by cycling his bike through his local parish towns, offering prayers and encouragement to locals. Galway's Father Ray Flaherty has already visited several villages, from Claran to Cloughanover and Inchequin to Headford town.
“The reaction from everyone has been so positive, I haven’t had any animosity or negativity from anyone I’ve met and not everyone would be religious,” he told The Irish Mirror. “This is giving people a huge connection and I’m meeting so many new families. I’m also connecting with our older parishioners in a way I have never done before and even to see where they live is rewarding."
Flaherty, who has been the priest in Headford for almost a decade, said that the mass closure of churches means that many parishioners are desperate for a sense of community, belonging and hope.
He added: “We are broadcasting Mass every morning on Facebook and we are getting a great engagement with that but the response I’ve had from those people I have visited, whose homes I have blessed has been truly wonderful.
“The link priests had with their communities has been lost in recent times as with all the clerical scandals priests might have felt awkward reaching out. But I’ve met so many people, those who have lived here for generations and those families who have settled in Headford because they are working in Galway, and every single one has welcomed me. Not everyone wants their houses blessed but they seem to appreciate the gesture of reaching out to the community during these strange times.”
Tina Matthews, 74, from Clydagh, said she was delighted when Fr Flaherty offered to bless her cottage,
“I live alone so it’s been a long seven weeks since the lockdown began and I was finding it tough even though I’m keeping busy with my garden,” she said.
“It is wonderful to have Fr Ray come here to bless my home. Life has been hard the past few years as I’ve lost both my husband and my brother but now, I feel that everything is going to be okay.”
Though the priest is still regularly hopping on his bike, some of the outer reaches of his parish are rather difficult to reach without four-wheel transportation. So, local bus driver Jim Donnellan offered to ferry him around.
“I’m still cycling around the town but for areas further out where the houses cover a wide distance, I have Jim helping me out and I’m eternally grateful,” Flaherty said.