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Leaving Certs 2020: A Blessing for the Journey

Homily by Bishop Denis at the ceremony for Leaving Certs held in Holy Family Church, Askea at 7pm on Thursday May 21st, 2020.

Words of Introduction:

I warmly welcome all of you from the 41 Secondary Schools across 24 parishes in our diocese who are virtually connected this evening through our KandLe Facebook Live page or the webcam here in Holy Family Church, Askea. Feel free to leave a comment on Facebook Live telling us where you are and what prayer intention you have this night.

This has been a very different May for you, a very different last term for you. You have been robbed of so much – the last few weeks of tying up loose ends. Saying goodbye to friends. Thanking inspirational teachers who have formed you into the young people you are. Missing Graduation moments and whatever might happen afterwards.

And in the face of the pandemic that has swept through every parish and impacted every home one way or another, you have shown as young people how resilient you have become. How strong you have remained in the face of uncertainty and indecisiveness. How important it was that your voice was heard and heard clearly. How much goodness and kindness has come out of these lockdown times.

In a short while I’m going to invite you to light a candle at home, just be sure to have a candle, a lighter or matches close to hand. But don’t light anything until I tell you. Hold on for a little while, first we will reflect on the schools that have prepared you for the Leaving Cert and for life beyond the Leaving Cert, Margaret leads us in this short reflection …


The celebrated adventurer and chief scout Bear Grylls was asked in an interview where did he find the courage, strength, resilience to survive in inhospitable deserts, mountains and castaway islands. His response was simple “Any strength I have comes from when I am on my own, on my knees, it comes from taking time to be still with God”.

The two pals in Luke’s gospel, Cleopas and his friend only recognise Jesus late in the table setting, in the stillness of Eucharist. Their journey perhaps is not unlike our own this night. They talk allot, maybe too much, their heads were melted, so much had gone on.

You have navigated a very different last term, with its palpable loss of iconic moments that can never be restored or regained. Let no one ever say “sure you’re the class of 2020, you’ve had it easy” because you haven’t. So much, too much has been asked of you in recent weeks as you were summersalted from one possible scenario to another.

There were strong voices on either side of the argument. Sitting ‘State Exams’ versus being awarded ‘Predictive Grades’. You were the ones with your teachers who only want the best for each one of you and your parents and pals who understand you and sometimes don’t – you were the ones caught up in the middle. Now a little distance from that decision, made in the best interests of public safety, you still carry your worries, your losses, your concerns.

The Leaving Cert is a Rite of Passage. It’s more than a school, it’s the spirit. It’s more than a class, it’s the memories. It’s more than a team, it’s the bonding. As the children’s author Lorraine Marwood, Australian author and poet, describes it so beautifully in her novel ‘Leave Taking”. It tells the story of a family who have decided to leave their farm after the death of their little daughter Leah from cancer. Her older brother Toby knows nowhere else to call his home; he spends the day with his dog Trigger saying goodbye to all the places, all the things, all the little memories that has made the farm his home. No matter what age we are, endings are as important as beginnings.

And tonight, as a diocese we wanted to mark the endings for all 4,000 of you in our 41 Secondary Schools. Lighting individual candles for every one of your schools. Having you follow our ceremony on Facebook Live or watching in on the webcam. And your Principals, Teachers and families.

In this the middle of Laudato Si’ week, your generation is more conscious and environmentally atuned to climate change and climate justice than any previous one. I think of the Friday School Strike for Climate initiative and its founder Greta Thunberg, the same age as yourselves. You must now be the leaders in this movement and the prophet Micah reminds us how we protect our environment and how we care for one another by acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with your God.

You were the very first classes I confirmed back in the Spring of 2014, my first ceremony in Carbury parish. And I remember looking everywhere for the Church in Carbury and it all the time in Derrinturn! I invited you then to write me a letter and perhaps I read yours on Confirmation Day. Like yourselves I’m conscious of the many boys and girls, perhaps your younger siblings, who also have missed celebrating their Confirmation and First Holy Communion days. They too will have their day in time.

As you step out on your journey beyond the Leaving Cert of 2020 may you bring others with you; there is no need to worry or to be stressed. As in the current pandemic the Lord is always present with us. Sometimes like in Luke’s gospel we don’t always recognise Him, but He is always there. There will be other years to go to Longitude or even Electric Picnic. There will be other years for foreign holidays. And there will be many virtual and electronic graduations, but tonight is our night for the Kildare & Leighlin family. Let’s work together, let’s stay at home, let’s stay well, let’s stay close to friends and let’s stay close to God. He is never far from you.