Still inspiring young people

May 16, 2023 in Featured News, News

Leonard Moloney SJ presided and preached at a Mass at Knock Shrine attended by over two thousand young people marking the 10th anniversary of the death of inspirational Kerry teenager Donal Walsh.

The Mass was part of a day-long event on Thursday 11 May 2023, and a gathering of young people that has taken place in the years since Donal’s death from cancer in May 2013.

In his homily, Leonard Moloney SJ told the young people there that Donal had lived a courageous life filled with resilience and compassion. Despite facing the daunting challenge of cancer, Donal fought his battle with unwavering strength and bravery, climbing as he often called them, ‘God’s mountains.'”

He had a deep personal faith and trust in God and throughout his journey, he said, he never lost his spirit and became an inspiration to those around him.

Other speakers included Garda Aidan O’Mahony, former All-Ireland Kerry footballer. Donal had himself won an All-Ireland football medal before his first cancer struck in 2008. referencing this in his homily Fr Moloney said, “When his first bout at aged 12 meant an operation on his leg and no more team football or All Ireland medals, he became a coach on the sidelines. When he lost some of his lung in the second round of illness, aged 15, he started training so he could cycle the mountains of  Kerry fundraising for cancer research.”

Fr Moloney went on to point out the extraordinary turn Donal’s life took when his cancer returned for the third time. He was deeply upset by the rising death-by-suicide figures in his own county and around Ireland. In a television interview shortly before his death, he embarked on a mission to save lives by urging young people to seek help rather than take their own lives. His powerful message resonated deeply with countless individuals, offering them a lifeline and reminding them that they were not alone.

“When God’s third and final mountain called him,” said Leonard Moloney SJ, “Donal did indeed scream from the mountaintop, asking young people of Ireland to value the life they had and seek help if they needed it. “If I’m meant to be a symbol for people to appreciate life, then I’ll be happy to die,”’ Donal said.

Donal wanted young people to pay attention to him and to their own lives. And seek help if they needed it, said Fr Moloney, noting that, “The very fact that you [young people] are here today means you are listening to him and paying attention. Because you too have your own mountains. Each of you knows your own personal ones. You have been hearing earlier today from mental health experts and we know there are young people facing their own mental health challenges in these times. We know that bullying is a problem in schools and outside of schools, we know about exam pressure, peer pressure, alcohol or drug problems, family issues; illnesses, and even premature death. And on a wider scale, we have the environmental crisis that you young people are so good at altering us older generation to, homelessness, the refugee crisis, violence, and war across the globe. You may even have some refugees from Ukraine or further afield in your own places. There are boulders that can block us, mountains that can defeat us, dark times for sure – and Donal knew dark times – but he also knew how to face the dark times and not be defeated. Why was this the case? because he had faith – and he prayed.”

Fr Moloney went on to outline how young people might learn how to pray by looking at how Jesus prayed in his darkest hour in the Garden of Olives, and how Donal mirrored that prayer in his struggle with cancer.

He cited a number of points including how Jesus was radically honest with his Father in his agony, “He told God straight about how afraid he was facing into such suffering and he pleaded, ‘Let this cup pass, I don’t want it… And I’m reminded of Dónal’s honesty in his final months when he spoke of his anger at young people dying by suicide when he himself wanted so much to live. And all the good that came out of that honest prayer as he urged them to think twice about suicide and ask for help. Or when Fr Paddy asked him if he was afraid of dying, and he replied, ‘No Father, just nervous.”’

Donal’s parents, Elma and Fionnbar Walsh, and sister Jema, set up a foundation in memory of Donal and the #Livelife Foundation and reports show that their organisation has made a significant difference in the lives of so many young people. Fr Moloney spoke of this also.

“We see also that Jesus in Gethsemene repeated his anguished prayer three times. The gospels promise us that faith and prayer will move mountains, but it doesn’t promise they will move them immediately. Sometimes, for prayer to work, we have to pray it many times. That’s why Never Give Up is the motto on the wristband of the Donal Walsh ‘#Livelife’ foundation that serves his cause of promoting his ‘live life’ message and provides appropriate teenage facilities in hospices, hospitals, Pieta house, and many more.
God always answers our prayers – but not always in the way we expect or at the time we ask.”

Concluding his homily Fr Moloney told the story of how just a few days before Donal died, journalist Mark Egan rang to tell him that one group working in suicide prevention had recorded a four-fold increase in young people seeking help since Donal was interviewed on TV and wrote his challenging piece and they put that huge increase totally down to him.

“Donal”, though very weak, told the journalist he was thrilled with that news,” said Fr Moloney, “But at that moment he could not have known what we know now some ten years later – that because of him young people all over the country would have better hospice care; that children in Crumlin Hospital would have better facilities because of the money raised by him before and after his death; that to this very day today thousands of young people across Ireland would rally to his message of hope, love, and compassion for themselves and others in this suffering world. This is true resurrection. Donal’s death was not the end it was only the beginning.”

Fr Moloney said he was also struck by something else that Mark Egan mentions in his article about Donal. “The journalist was really touched by Donal’s last words to him at the end of the call. ‘Thanks for letting me know,’ Donal said. Such an important word – ‘thank you’. And Donal’s very last tweet was the same. ‘Thanks for all the messages of support, #gratitude”’

The Irish Jesuit then told the young people that gratitude is considered one of the most powerful and important forms of prayer, before asking them to think about making their own gratitude list every day. “I’m a Jesuit and the founder of our order, way back in the 16th century developed a profound understanding of spirituality, about which thousands of books and articles have been written. But one expert recently said to me – you could boil all Ignatius had to say about spirituality down into one word – ‘gratitude.’ Hashtag gratitude.”

Fr Moloney said at the close of the day that this was the overwhelming sense he had as he left Knock. Gratitude for Donal and his inspirational life, for his family who have wrought so much good out of unspeakable sorrow, and for the young people who continue to respond to Donal’s heartfelt plea to live life and seek help if needed.