A Derry priest who has been fascinated by Celtic saints since his childhood has released a book focusing on his favourites.
Fr Neal Carlin, who has written a number of books, has been a priest for 55 years and was a founder of the Columba Community.
In the last three decades the community has grown and now encompasses four centres.
They include the Columba House of Prayer and Reconciliation in Derry, St Anthony’s Retreat Centre, White Oaks Rehabilitation Centre, and IOSAS Visitor’s Centre, Celtic Peace Garden and Sanctuary, in County Donegal.
Fr Carlin’s new book is entitled ‘Favourite Celtic Saints’ and is a subject which has always fascinated him.
“I think partly it was because of my background. I attended Colmcille School in Newtowncunningham, then St Eunan’s College and it was St Eunan who wrote the book on Columba. Then as a teenager I moved to Fahan and spent a lot of time in the graveyard which contains St Mura’s Cross.” Fr Carlin said.
After joining the priesthood, Fr Carlin said he was always interested in the monastic model of the church.
“With the Columba community we were attempting to reproduce it, with lay people and ordained priests working together,” he said.
“I would see the complexity of our prayer centre in Derry, the outreach centre at White Oaks, the organic centre and the peace garden as something of a modern day Celtic monastery. It is a small basic community spending every day together, praying together and having a healing ministry.
“That is something that was big with the Celtic saints.”
Fr Carlin said he was inspired to set up the community after spending six months in America and Mexico visiting similar small communities.
He described this as having a ‘massive impact on him’.
Upon his return, he created the Columba community and they visited Long Kesh at the height of the Troubles to pray with prisoners.
In 2001 the community opened White Oaks Rehabilitation Centre for the treatment of alcohol, drug and other addictions.
Thousands of people have sought assistance from the centre and 60 per cent of them have achieved long term sobriety.
“There have been tremendous outcomes and I put it down to the spirituality and belief here. While it is not being pushed down people’s throats there is a high level of respect for everybody in here. There is also long term support available for people.”
Fr Carlin said he thinks the future of the Church has to involve a lot more retreats, contemplation and reflection and the creation of more small communities.
He said he would like to see the proper use of Columba House and attempt to reconnect with young people.
“I think we have lost that generation and would love to get them back. I am not so concerned if they come to church, but I am worried about their inner peace, their lifestyle. I would like to get them to visit the Celtic Peace Garden so they can find peace and joy through a connection with nature.”
Favourite Celtic Saints is available at Veritas.