The new Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, was welcomed to St Eugene’s Cathedral following the announcement of his appointment this morning.
Pupils from local schools were among the hundreds of people who gathered in the cathedral for the announcement, which was made by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, on behalf of Pope Francis.
Dr McKeown said he was delighted to become the Bishop of Derry and was looking forward to meeting people across the diocese.
“I’m open to hearing their stories and allowing them to teach me the things I need to hear,” he said.
“I have an awful lot to learn, not just about where Rosemount is or where the Waterside is but about life here and how people want to do beautiful things with their lives,” he added.
The new Bishop said he is particularly looking forward to meeting the young people of Derry. “It will be important to be out and be in the parishes and meet people and with confirmations coming up it is a great opportunity. I enjoy meeting people. People are wonderful. I taught in schools for 23 years and I’m almost embarrassed to say it as a priest but I enjoy being with young people.
“I am looking forward to being energised by them rather than feeling it is my job to get the stick out and beat people along,” he said.
Dr McKeown said he wanted the Church to become more involved in public life. “I genuinely believe this is an exciting time to have a chance to speak the gospel into the church and civil life. As a society we have to discern what type of communities we want to build in Northern Ireland.
“The churches working together in Northern Ireland can play an important role as critical friends of the political structures because those structures actually leave no room for a loyal opposition. Faith has a real role to play in the public square and not be stuck in the sacristy,” he said.
Dr McKeown also acknowledged the present difficulties in the Catholic Church but said he is looking forward with positivity. “I know the Church in Ireland has experienced many difficulties but the scriptures are clear that a humble and contrite heart is much more open to God than a proud one.
“That is why I think our present situation is a time of grace rather than a reason for despair. I look forward to working with people of faith and people of doubt within the diocese so that our young people can have hope and we can generate communities worthy of them. I actually feel energised rather than depressed by this daunting challenge,” he said.
Dr McKeown has been welcomed to the city by political and religious leaders.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness congratulated Dr McKeown on his appointment. “I warmly welcome the announcement that Dr Donal McKeown is to be the new Bishop of Derry. Bishop McKeown is well known for his progressive approach, particularly in the field of education.
“Bishop McKeown is recognised as a communicator, educator and advocate for social justice. I welcome him to the Derry Diocese and look forward to working with him on issues of common interest,” he said.
The Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Ken Good, also sent his congratulations to Dr McKeown, saying: “I have known Bishop Donal for many years and look forward to a warm working relationship with him. We were both teachers, have run marathons and have been involved in many fruitful discussions about the future of our community.
“Bishop McKeown has a commitment to building peace in our community and he will receive a warm welcome in our city. We offer our prayers and good wishes for his new ministry in Derry diocese,” he said.
Dr McKeown will be installed as Bishop of Derry in St Eugene’s Cathedral on April 6.
(See Friday’s Derry Journal for full coverage, analysis and pictures)