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Cross-community service honours popular priest

LAST Friday, members of Langfield Parish were joined by ministers and lay people from different churches to form a multi-denominational congregation in St Patrick’s Church, Drumquin for a special celebration of Fr Kevin Mullan’s 50 years of ministry.

Reflecting the spirit in which the popular priest has lived his life, a diverse group of people came together in peaceful unity to show their appreciation for the man who has dedicated his life to toppling barricades and bridging divides.

Among the multitude who turned up to express their gratitude was Rev David Armstrong, a man with whom Fr Mullan has a friendship that dates back some 40 years and illustrates why Fr Mullan is held in such high esteem far beyond the boundaries of his own church.

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“Back in the early 1980s,” said Fr Mullan, “both myself and Rev Armstrong were stationed in our respective churches in Limavady – the Roman Catholic Church was adjacent to the Presbyterian Church.”

Limavady was a bitterly divided area at the time – before construction of the Catholic Church was complete, it was bombed.

“Rev Armstrong condemned the attack and stood by our right to have a church and practice our faith in Limavady, however some people in his congregation resented his efforts to build good relations with us,” said Fr Mullan, who incidentally was himself described as ‘fearless’ by one of those in attendance at last Friday’s service.

“Amid substantial pressure from a contingent of his congregation to stand down, Rev Armstrong persisted, undeterred by the threat of violence.”

Eventually the safety of Rev Armstrong’s family was jeopardised and he sought refuge in England. Meanwhile, Fr Mullan remained in the North, fighting to change a society riddled by prejudice, suspicion and hatred.

An insightful parishioner who attended the service last Friday said, “The fact that Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglicans can sit here in peaceful togetherness, united by their status as people rather than being separated by their denominational identifies, is itself evidence that Fr Mullan’s life’s work has not been in vain.”

She continued, “He is very bright and sees things which other people miss; he sees people before denomination; he sees the present as the only time you can actually live in; he sees the limits of dwelling on the past and cost of fixating on the future.”

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In a moment that mirrored the good humour in Fr Mullan’s nature, she laughed and said, “We reckon he could be a candidate for canonisation but I’m not sure if you can be made a saint while you are still alive.”

Fr Mullan’s contribution to building the inter-church bonds witnessed last Friday is immeasurable, and he continues to work within the inclusive community of Langfield Parish.

By Emmet McElhatton

e.mcelhatton@ulsterherald.com

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