Priest forgives man who stole after his help

Paddy O'Kane. (2103SL01)
Paddy O'Kane. (2103SL01)

A well known Derry priest has forgiven a ‘homeless’ man who robbed him of several hundred pounds after being given shelter at the parochial house during Christmas week.

Father Paddy O’Kane, PP at the Holy Family Church, Ballymagroarty was awoken in the early hours of last Monday by a young man in distress. Fr. O’Kane offered the man assistance but the following day he realised several hundred pounds in cash had been stolen.

Speaking yesterday Fr. O’Kane said: “At the time I was angry and annoyed but I have come to see the bigger picture.”

The money taken had been personally put aside by Fr. O’Kane to help parishioners attend a pilgrimage.

Explaining what happened Fr. O’Kane reassured his parishioners that none of their money was missing after the incident.

“It was 5am and I was awoken out of my bed by someone ringing the door bell. A man was at the door and said he was homeless and was talking about ‘going to the bridge.’ He was wringing wet and had not been drinking so I went with my gut feeling and invited him inside.

“I’ve been a priest for 40 years and I believe he was genuine. I would think I’m fairly discerning in such a situation so I was happy to help him.

“I was, I still am, convinced the man was genuine. I have had depression myself and I know the signs so I believed it as a genuine case. I recognised the symptoms and I couldn’t have faced the news the next day that they had taken a body from the Foyle and I had been the last to see him alive and hadn’t helped.

“I also felt privileged that Christ has sent someone to me for help and I could help him at Christmas. I felt blessed he came to my door and I could administer Christ’s message.”

The visitor was offered the guest room for the night. Having slept all night Fr. O’Kane offered the man breakfast and in the early afternoon the man said goodbye.

“When he was leaving he even thanked me and told me that I had saved his life, so even at that stage I was sure I had done the right thing.

“It was shortly after he had gone I realised I hadn’t given him any money to help him on his way. I was kicking myself. It was then I went to where I keep my savings and there was several hundred pounds missing. The reason I had so much money in the place was I had helped people pay for a pilgrimage and they had paid me back.”

Police confirmed a 26-year-old man was arrested and bailed following a reported burglary.

Fr. O’Kane said: “My trust has been damaged. I felt angry that my trust had been abused, my generosity and kindness had been thrown back in my face.

“I knew I had to report what happened and I did so in anger but that anger has gone now and I just hope that the man uses this as an opportunity to turn his life around. I now have come to accept what happened as another symptom of the man’s depression.”