“IT is a senseless loss of life,” remarked Ballyroan PP Fr Gerard Ahern during his moving homily to the 2,000 mourners who congregated in overflowing St Patrick’s Church last Saturday afternoon to pay their final respects to murdered au pair Aoife Phelan.
“That someone should die in the circumstances in which Aoife’s life was taken goes beyond human understanding. Words fail to express our feelings and to describe our emotions.”
Ballyroan Brass Band, with moving renditions of “Abide With Me” and “Nearer My God To Thy”, led Aoife’s funeral procession into the bitterly cold and silently respectful church grounds and a guard of honour was formed by members of Ballyroan ladies football club.
Fr Ahern added, “We shouldn’t be here today but that is the reality we are confronted with.”
He added, “This is a community that has been moved by this tragic situation, a community that has reached out to offer help in searching for Aoife. A community that prayed she would be found and returned to her family. A community that now wants to reach out to Aoife’s family so as to ease their pain.”
He praised the dignity and strength shown by the Phelan family over two terribly traumatic weeks. “I want to say that I haven’t found faith like that I found in the Phelan household. I know you are strong, you are united and that the light of Christ will continue to bring you through these days. Aoife is obviously with you.”
Pointing to a beautiful photograph, Fr Ahern said we shouldn’t forget the good times and the memories Aoife left behind.
“I think if Aoife were to come in here, she’d probably say ‘what are you all doing here?’ She was a happy person who lived life to the full. She’d say, ‘I’m sad that I won’t be with you in this life but I’m happy to be in the next life. Cheer up, life has to go on. I know it is difficult but I will be there to help you’.”
Shortly before the grim discovery of Aoife’s body, Fr Ahern outlined how he was trying to think of an image that might be appropriate for this time. “The image that came to mind was that of a candle.”
He continued, “Aoife was the light that we expected to be burning for many years to come. But that candle has been extinguished and it is the memories that Aoife has left behind that will continue to light up the lives of those who knew her.
“Aoife was baptised in this church during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, April 11, 1982. It is a very special night for anybody to be baptised. It is a night full of symbolism as people gather in darkness waiting to celebrate Jesus resurrection from the dead. The paschal candle is carried through the church and that light dispels the darkness.
“It was from that candle in 1982 that Aoife’s baptismal candle was lit and given to her parents Betty and Mick. And it was handed to you with the words: ‘Parents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. Aoife is to walk always as a child of the light’. You certainly did what was asked of you and you kept the light of Christ burning brightly in her life. And now we call on that same light to transform the darkness of this day.”
Referring to the sadness, shock and grief of Aoife’s death, Fr Ahern suggested, “The last two weeks in a sense it seems so unreal.”
He said Aoife was full of life, someone that was caring and always thoughtful of others. She was a person who had a great love of children and she cared for many of those in the course of her work. She had an interest in sport, especially rugby and soccer.
“Being a Chelsea supporter brought her into conflict with some of her family and those supporters of opposing teams. Away from home Monday to Friday, she always kept in touch and looked forward to coming back home on Friday evening for the weekend and with something special for Daddy so that he could go out and enjoy himself. Of course Betty knew nothing about that! She had a talent for drawing, for sketching and a love of music. And when it came to buying presents at Christmas in particular, they were selected with each one’s suitability in mind.”