Faith Matters

Friars looking forward to QUB chaplaincy retreat

A team of Franciscan Friars from Galway will lead a retreat for the 'decided' and 'undecided' at the Catholic Chaplaincy at QUB

A team of three Franciscan Friars from Galway will lead a retreat at the Catholic Chaplaincy at QUB next week. Friars David, Ronan and Liam say they want to share their fraternal style of ministry with the 'decided' and 'undecided'

FRANCISCAN friars from Galway will bring their distinctive presence and ministry to Belfast next week when they lead a three-day retreat for Queen's University students.

QUB is new territory for Friars Liam, David and Ronan, all of whom are based in Galway's historic Franciscan Friary, known locally as 'the Abbey'.

In the recent past Franciscan friars have lived in Belfast, settling first in St Joseph's by the docks in the mid-1980s. Communities of friars also lived in Victoria Parade in the New Lodge and in Hughenden Avenue in the north of the city.

The last resident community of Franciscan friars left Belfast in the early 2000s so this retreat marks something of a homecoming, however brief.

The call to direct a retreat for students of the Catholic Chaplaincy in Queen's came to the friars out of the blue after they were approached by Fr Dominic McGrattan, the Catholic Chaplain at the university.

He was aware of some of the outreach work the friars have been engaged with in Galway, where they staff a busy city centre church, celebrating Mass and providing confessions each day.

The friars also engage in outreach to third level students and run online and in-person Lectio Divina scripture groups. Their other responsibilities include ministering to a community of Poor Clare sisters and providing initial formation for men at the early stage of their Franciscan journey.

This activity fits around a daily schedule of prayer 'in common'. The friars insist that their way of life makes no sense without regular times of prayer together.

The friars' lifestyle of shared prayer and fraternity is the model they hope to share with the students of the Catholic Chaplaincy during the three days of next week's retreat (October 19-21).

The retreat's theme has been inspired by the words of Jesus in the Gospel: "I call you friends" (John 15:15).

The friars said they were coming to QUB not as 'gurus' or scholars in the spiritual life, but as friends, companions and brothers.

A number of students have already been involved in preparing for the retreat.

"These students might be called 'the decided', because they are fully on board and we're coming to Queen's at their invitation," said Friar David.

Friar Liam added: "It really matters that there is a core of open, generous and friendly students at the heart of this retreat. It's important that their experience of the chaplaincy is something they value and want to celebrate and share with others.

"In the Gospel we are told that Jesus could work few miracles among his own neighbours because they were indifferent and even hostile to Him. We are encouraged by openness and friendliness of the students we have met so far."

Friar Ronan said they would attempt to share their fraternal style of ministry. "We know ourselves that living as a brothers, while it's demanding and by no means easy, yields a harvest of faith and good works in our lives," he said.

"We are looking forward to sharing something of our lives as brothers with the students, and to deepening our own faith in the process."

The friars accept that many students will think 'that's definitely not for me' when they consider the idea of a retreat.

"We are thinking a lot about the undecided and we're hoping and praying that those who are in this camp may join us for some or all of the retreat," said Friar Ronan.

"Our strong conviction is that a retreat is a time of grace, especially for those who may be undecided, not quite committed or a bit baffled about what faith means to them.

"A thousand things could go wrong during the retreat, but even if everything goes perfectly - if we have the most inspiring talks and the most uplifting music, the most profound moments of prayer, the best of food - if we are missing 'the undecided' student, our retreat is the poorer for it."

Friar Liam said "it won't be the end of the world if you miss it", but added: "On the other hand, it may be one of those rare enough moments in life when you take a risk, overcome a fear and discover, or rediscover, what the Gospel calls the 'pearl of great price'."

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