At the beginning of yesterday’s Requiem Mass, Fr. Michael Canny commented on the pleasant weather as sunlight streamed in through the open door of St Columb’s Church on Chapel Road.
It was similar weather to that of the fateful evening in July 2006, when Paul McCauley joined friends at a barbecue at a house on the same road. On that night the loyalist gang who unleashed a horrific attack on those clearing up after the barbecue left the father of one for dead.
It was hard to comprehend, during yesterday’s dignified and sombre Requiem Mass, that the same people who carried out the attack were living and breathing in their community, all but one of them yet to face a court for their part in the crime.
In his homily, Fr. Michael Canny spoke about the McCauley family’s fight for justice which has been unwavering.
The family had chosen the hymn ‘Make me a channel of your peace’ as their son’s coffin was carried into the chapel.
Addressing the family at the beginning of the service, Fr. Canny told them the community stood shoulder to shoulder with them and supported them in their grief and pain, and in their continued fight for justice.
He spoke of the challenging nine years they had spent by their son’s side, watching him struggle to be a prisoner in his own body as the injuries inflicted on him left him unable to communicate and in a permanent vegetative state.
A photograph of Paul during happier times had been placed on top of his coffin. He was pictured happy and youthful and smiling.
Gifts brought to the altar included a Foyle Search and Rescue jersey, in memory of Paul’s involvement with the charity, as well as the book ‘A Guide to Tolkien’ and a family photograph.
Paul had been a keen reader prior to the attack and Jim McCauley, when he visited his son in the Longfield Care Home every day, would read to his son, everything from the daily papers to pieces of literature.
During the early hours of Saturday morning those visits, which took place as regular as clockwork every day of the past nine years, came to an end when Paul passed away.
The staff in Longfield Care Home, as well as those in Altnagelvin, were singled out for mention for the compassionate way in which they had cared for Paul during the prayers of the faithful.
Fr. Canny told the family at the end of his homily that God would give them courage. Few in the congregation would have imagined the McCauleys could be any more courageous.
As Jim McCauley carried his son’s coffin as it left the church and made its way to Ballyoan Cemetery, a female vocalist sang: ‘Be Not Afraid, I go before you always.’
On Saturday, hours after his son had died, Jim McCauley said there was some satisfaction for him and Paul’s mother Cathy, in knowing that their son had died before them.
“We would not have wanted to have left him behind,” he said.
And as the cortege left the grounds of St Columb’s on Chapel Road, the McCauley family remained by their son’s side, as they had for the past nine years, as he made his journey to his final resting place.