Father James O’Reilly is a Curate in Antrim Parish and a Chaplain at Antrim Area Hospital
What about your background ?
I am 37, and I was baptized in St Malachy’s Church, in Alfred Street, Belfast. I grew up in Poleglass and then Lagmore. I’m from a loving family, Mum Patricia, Dad Paddy, two younger brothers Matthew and Tiernan, and older sister Katrina.
I attended St Kieran’s primary school in Poleglass and St Patrick’s secondary school in Lisburn. Later at the Belfast Institute I took my A -Levels and then attended St Mary’s University College Belfast.
How did you come to faith?
I grew up in a stereotypical Catholic family. We went to Mass on Sunday, and another strong influence came from my grandparents. My generation is almost the last where going to Mass was part of what you did. My journey of faith began in earnest a little later. As a 17- year- old I got involved in youth initiatives which began as part of a parish mission in West Belfast. Meeting young men and women a bit older than me, whose faith was central to their lives, made a serious impact. After about a year in youth initiatives I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit and the love of God in a real life-changing way.
Is this faith only for Sundays?
It is centred on Jesus; the first person I speak to every day and the last person I speak to before bed. Every day my mind is focused in honouring Him and hopefully leading others into a living encounter with Him.
Have you ever had a crisis or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
I’ve never had a crisis of faith which is in itself a gift, though in my late teens/early twenties there were significant moments of challenge. As I’ve grown in my relationship with God, I have become more and more certain of the truth of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is risen, and because of that reality, my life has meaning and purpose.
Have you ever been angry with God?
As a hospital Chaplain, I spent the pandemic ministering to people who were very sick with Covid-19. I’m not sure if angry is the right word, but for sure frustrated in trying to understand and see God in those difficult moments when people were dying alone. Probably the angriest I’ve been with God if you want call it that, has been when I have ministered at funerals of young people. I really struggle to understand where God is when a young person dies.
Are you ever ashamed of your own church or denomination?
When you look at the past of the Catholic Church in Ireland, you have to be ashamed. We have a shameful past around the abuse crisis and how the church responded to that.
Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?
All people have a fear of death and that’s natural. But I have a strong conviction of where I’m going and that’s into the arms of a loving father, so I find extreme consolation in that.
What about other denominations and faiths?
I have spent a large part of my ministry involved in church unity work The brokenness of the body is a scandal and the more we can do together the better. I count those who believe in Jesus, and subscribe to the essential elements of the Creed, as my brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of denomination.
Would you be comfortable in trying to learn from other people?
I have already done so, many times. I have spent a lot of my time learning from friends in different Christian traditions, particularly around evangelisation and mission. .
Are the churches fulfilling their mission?
We have a duty to do better. From a Catholic perspective there are many good people trying to find ways to reach out with the good news. I am convinced that the Church in Ireland going into the future is in a good place. We are really good at serving, but leading people into a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ is where the Church is going to really move in the future.
Why are so many turning their backs on organized religion?
. I can only answer for the Catholic Church and we have been too religious, which sounds crazy. I don’t think the Catholic Church was ever supposed to be about a set of rules. When people are searching for truth we are built by God to lead others into an encounter with Him. It is a hierarchical structure for sure, but everybody is supposed to play their part. People want community, and to be known, and we have to do better at that. When we do so, I believe people won’t see the Church as“organized religion” but as a place of welcome.
Has religion helped or hindered in Northern Ireland?
Most people would probably say hindered but I’m not sure. The faith communities across the divide have done incredible work to serve the needs of the people in incredibly difficult moments. A lot of our issues have been in the name of religion, when in reality it was nothing to do with that.
Favourite film, book and music?
Film;Remember The Titans;Books the autobiographies of Roy Keane and Jamie Carragher; I love acoustic music and anything contemporary Christian.
Where you feel closest to God?
In many places, but In the Church is where I most encounter Him. But strangely, recently I love going to pray at the top of the Cavehill in north Belfast.
The inscription on your gravestone?
Haven’t given it much thought, but probably my life verse which I have tattooed on me Micah 6:8 Act Justly, Love mercy, walk humbly with God.
Any major regrets?
I am only six years ordained and hopefully have many years of service. I will make mistakes, but I have no regrets. I am convinced I am right where I am supposed to be, every obstacle, every failure and every success has made me the person I am today. I just want to get out of the way and hopefully God will use me in some small way that will allow others to know