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Popular cleric returns to mission work

Published: 16 Aug 2012 13:000 comments

In the brief two years that he has been at St. Michael's Church in Enniskillen, Father John Skinnader has made his mark.

Fr. John Skinnader.

As well as becoming a highly regarded part of the clerical and wider community in the county town, his words of inclusion and coming together brought comfort at the darkest of days when he delivered the Homily atthe funeral of Constable Ronan Kerr last year.

As a friend of the Kerr family, thoughts of Ronan are still uppermost in his mind.

"When there have been big events round here, especially when the Queen was coming, I realised that Ronan would have been part of that whole security. You miss him, especially when you think of him at times like that," he said.

This week, with the announcement of clerical changes came the news that Father Skinnader is to return to missionary work in Africa.

Prior coming to Enniskillen two years ago, he had worked in Ethiopia. Now he is going to take on the challenge of working in South Sudan.

Enniskillen has been good to him. "It has been a busy place. The work is good and the people are very appreciative of our efforts on their behalf. There has been a good rapport between myself and the people".

He is also appreciative of the fellowship that is on-going and developing between the churches in Enniskillen. "I would especially congratulate the Rev. Kenny Hall. He started a coffee morning once a month for the clergy. It is a good way to break down walls between us and build friendships by sharing coffee and tea together. I must say I really was struck by the openness of the other churches like David [Rev. Cupples] from the Presbyterian Church, Sam [Rev. McGuffin] from the Methodist Church and Kenny from the Church of Ireland. Their focus is like ourselves, not so much on the Church but on God".

The amount of support he has received for the mission from the Enniskillen community is "incredible". "I did not ask for fund-raising but people have been taking it on."

St. Fanchea's College, of which is Chaplain and a member of the Board of Governors, has seen pupils car washing and bag packing to raise funds and St. Joseph's College and the Gaels' Club are just some other organisations that have been undertaking fund-raisers for his work in South Sudan.

His main work in Ethiopia was on development for the Church. "I worked very closely with other churches on that, delivering an umbrella programme together," he said.

He arrives in South Sudan a year after the country achieved independence.

The Christian Sudanese have asked the churches build up structures that have been fallen apart during the war years in their country. Father Skinnader noted: "There are supposed to be 10 million people in South Sudan, there are only 675 girls going to secondary school".

He will be based at the Wulu mission in Rumbek, a very rural and isolated area.

"One Kenyan Priest is already there, he went three months ago. A Ugandan Priest who was appointed says it's too difficult and has refused to go. A Tanzanian priest due to go died in a car accident. There are just two of us at the moment. We are hoping for more appointments from Rome," said Fr. Skinnader.

Based in the Wulu diocese, he is to set up and develop offices for the overall diocese which has a population of four million.

"There are plenty of challenges ahead. They are good people -- the Dinka people -- their life revolves around the cattle".

He leaves in October. "Canon Peter O'Reilly wants me to be here for the parish dance on October 19 and I leave three days later on October 22".

In terms of preparations, he has all his injections and has got mosquito netting. "I also like to bring a tent. If I am travelling and there is no mosquito netting in different places. I use the tent. Even in a hotel I would put up the tent on top of the bed to keep the mosquitoes away".

Reflecting on leaving the town, he said: "I will miss the banter. I got on extremely well with the other priests in the house. I will miss the comfort of sitting at my window in the morning, having my coffee and looking out over the Erne".

"Where I am going it is 40 degree heat most of the time. But once it is a dry heat I have no problem. And it's too hot for mosquitoes -- and that's good!"

"One of the biggest challenges is the dynamic of the church in Europe and in Africa. It is so different. Here you are trying to renew and re-form, down there you are building something up together with the people, something fresh, new and dynamic. It is a life-giving experience to be involved," he added.

This week Bishop Liam McDaid announced that the Rev. Martin Donnelly, formerly of the Archdiocese of Cardiff, is to be CC Enniskillen and Director of Enniskillen Accord Centre.

Other appointments for the Diocese of Clogher, which will take effect from September 1, are Rev. John Kearns, CC Clones, to be CC Clogher and to assist in the parish of Brookeborough; Rev. Cathal Deery, CC Killeevan, to be CC Clones and Rev. John F. McKenna, CC Clogher, to be CC Killeevan.

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