A man of his convictions: Fr Brian D’Arcy pays tribute to Fr Des Wilson
The well-known priest Fr Brian D’Arcy has paid tribute to the late Fr Des Wilson whose funeral is taking place on Saturday at Corpus Christi Church in west Belfast.
Fr Wilson was one of the best-known priests in west Belfast, creating headlines with his individual approach and made a significant contribution to peace-making and to the local community.
He passed away earlier this week at the age of 94.
Fr D'Arcy said: "Des Wilson was a man of his convictions. He put his life and comforts on the line, bravely discerning a new way of being a priest. He shunned clerical promotion for the sake of the Gospel. He despised the evils of clericalism.
"In the early 1970s we became friends. I was then the inexperienced editor of a religious magazine based in Dublin. I asked Des, who was well-known even then, to write for The Cross magazine. He was someone who comforted the afflicted and often afflicted the uncomfortable.
"Des wrote about the Troubles in a deep, thoughtful and philosophical way. Prejudice and bigotry were left to lesser mortals. He founded the Springhill Community in 1971 as a place of learning and of radical Christian living.
"Through the years Des seemed to know instinctively when to send the encouraging sharing of his unique spiritual insights. For over 70 years he supported, directed and lived the Gospel. May he now have the peace and rest he deserves."
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In 2012 when it became known that an attempt was being made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome to censure Fr D’Arcy for his remarks in his Sunday World column and elsewhere, Fr Wilson sprang to his defence.
In a strongly –worded letter to the Vatican he stated “ You may be aware that in recent years we in Ireland lost to the priesthood some of our best intellectuals because priests were disciplined, sometimes for trivialities, sometimes for making people aware that the Church is a seeking Church, not a triumphalist one.
"It is damaging to us all to try to solve problems by silencing speakers rather than fostering and freshening ideas.
"Looking back on more than 60 years as a Catholic priest in Ireland I think I know the values of those who choose their own silence, but also the emptiness of those who enforce silence on others.”
Fr D’Arcy said: "I first got word about it in March 2011 but I was sworn to silence. It was 13 months later when it was leaked, but not by me, and became public in the Spring of 2012. It is still hanging over me, but Pope Francis keeps me safe!"
Fr Wilson, who died earlier this week at the age of 94, was brought up on the Ormeau Road in Belfast. He spent over 50 years as a priest in West Belfast, and was highly-respected for his educational work in the Springhill Community and for his peace-making efforts and for his contribution to the whole community.
Fr Patrick McCafferty, parish priest of Corpus Christi will be the celebrant at the Requiem Mass at the funeral of Fr Wilson which begins at 10 am on Saturday.