In early March 2020 Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership invited two significant guests from Sierra Leone; Dr Stanela Beckley, Chairperson of The Sierra Leone Teaching Service Commission and Bishop Henry Aruna, recently appointed bishop of Kenema Diocese. They were the guest speakers at a conference in Maynooth University. The day after the conference 6th March they were willing guests at a great and joyful gathering in the parish Hall at Kimmage Manor, Whitehall Road Dublin 12. It was more relaxed than the busy conference atmosphere but a significant opportunity to share stories and views, pray together and enjoy good Spiritan hospitality. It was an important opportunity to converse with the two guests from Sierra Leone.
To use a phrase often heard in Sierra Leone, on the ‘compound’ of Kimmage Parish Hall is a residence for many Spiritan Missionaries some of whom enjoyed many years of ministry in Sierra Leone, and many of whom joined the meeting. Among the other participants were a number of Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary and also many lay people who had connections and interest in Sierra Leone. Also among the many participants was a former volunteer teacher in Sierra Leone in the late 1970s who has since been ordained a Church of Ireland minister.
The afternoon began with the Honorary Consul for Sierra Leone Mr Joe Manning sharing words of warm welcome. Then each of the guests spoke briefly about themselves and some of the responsibilities they face in their respective roles. A number of other people also shared their stories of Sierra Leone and asked questions. Dr Stanela gave an outline of the many challenges currently facing schooling in Sierra Leone with particular emphasis on the need for a greater numbers of qualified teachers. The problem is more acute in rural schools especially those a good distance from urban centres. Bishop Henry spoke about the demands on the diocese of Kenema to support the many schools under Catholic patronage. Sometimes they have the responsibility without the authority. There are many government demands and regulations but the financial support is often limited and obtaining recognition and support is quite bureaucratic.
Fr Michael Fillie, a native of Sierra Leone, was among the many contributors who spoke with passion about the needs and dreams of Sierra Leone.
After the conversations the group were invited by Mr Jim Owens to take some time for prayer and reflection. Sr Bridget Lacey MSHR read a gospel passage from Luke 4:16-22. It gives the blueprint for ministry; sharing the good news with poor people, liberty to those in captivity or downtrodden and healing to those bearing illnesses or disability. In the group present people had and were living out the directives of the reading.
After the prayer Mr Ciaran McGoey and the never-tiring former teachers of Yengema Secondary School presented a cheque to Bishop Henry for the further development of the YSS. It was the result of a great fundraising concert in Longford Cathedral.