I had just returned to Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre having officiated at a funeral in which there had been five deaths within the family in four years. Brian McKee, who works with me in the Peace and Reconciliation Office, had just remarked upon how tired we were.
I received the first of many phone calls, the last about 2.30am on Wednesday. The tiredness dissipated as I had been informed that a tragic death of an infant had taken place, and that a toddler was now critically ill.
During the next hour or so there was a deluge of information and misinformation coming out of the parish of Holy Cross, Ardoyne. The one fact that remained true was that, tragically, the victims were so terribly young. Ardoyne witnessed the worst of tragedies and loss during the Troubles, but this was different. This was something that has deeply shaken this closely-knit community.
The make-up of the parish ensures such closeness and solidarity because they are physically intertwined. But in a horror situation like this, it meant so many people were exposed to scenes no one should really have to encounter in their lifetime.
During the challenge of the pandemic, we have been in awe of front line workers, but in terms of those who attended the scene in Brompton Park on Tuesday night, we can only feel for them as it must have been beyond comprehension.
In the last 30 years, attending to many tragic and horrific emergencies, I know what that does to oneself personally, but when it is a child or children, it takes on a completely different dimension.
I offered Mass yesterday morning and I tried to encompass the many emails, texts and calls I received right through until about 2.30am, and I marvelled at the broadest perspective of compassion to all concerned in this tragedy.
On the way to my office here on the Crumlin Road, I paused outside the scene where police and journalists were present, but the emptiness, the stillness and numbness was almost physical to touch.
The streets were empty, almost as if people were so shocked as to be cowering within their homes. I went to the local bakery and people were just shaking their heads. It was like the parish was in shock.
I have received calls from right across the island, including one from a loyalist bandsman, offering prayers and solidarity. This tragedy is one of those times so awful that it transcends all traditions and creeds.
I commend the wise words of our political leaders calling for a restraint from judgment and rash comments, particularly on social media. Now is the time to pause, reflect. And as we think of the wonderful community that is Ardoyne, so deeply wounded, we of faith send our prayers.
Those outside of the faith context can send their best thoughts. This will take a long time to come to terms with. There will be many deep wounds, and anything we can do to assist in that healing process is both our religious and civic duty.
My thoughts and prayers are with the little ones, the families, Fr Eugene CP, the parish team, and all the parishioners.
Fr Gary Donegan CP is director of The Passionist Peace and Reconciliation Office, Belfast, and former parish priest and rector of Holy Cross, Ardoyne.