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Tribute to Fr. Matthias Finbarr Murphy

May 6, 2015, 10:51 AM

Born in County Cork, Republic of Ireland, on 13th January 1933, FR. MATTHIAS FINBARR MURPHY was a man of unwavering faith who never minced his words.The bold, fearless preacher has had frequent brushes with death, particularly during the civil war in Nigeria.I guess he was one of the few Holy Ghost Fathers who left that country unscathed.

Fr. Murphy came to The Gambia in 1971, and besides stints in Basse and Fulabantang, acted as stand-in at the Cathedral, before settling in Campama for 33 years!

As a preacher, he was in a league of his own. The cathedral was always filled to capacity for Sunday evening Mass. The occasional cackle in Church was something new. Thanks to Fr. Murphy for relieving the congregation of stress, while feeding them with the word of God.

Preaching against the practice of Catholics wearing amulets or “tere”, I can vividly recall Fr. Murphy asking rhetorically................

Can a piece of leather tied around your waist take you to Heaven?

Can a piece of leather tied around your waist die for you on a cross?

Can a piece of leather tied around your waist say Mass for you?

Such was the power of his sermons!

Like everyone else, Fr. Murphy had his DO’s and DON’Ts.  For example:-

•           He avoided mentioning MONEY from the lectern

•           He restricted the movement of cameramen in church

BUT, he was the only priest, I know, who didn’t mind you receiving a call in church, provided you came to the front of the altar. 

His knowledge spanned different fields – Sports, Music, Journalism – you name it. His stance on highly contentious issues was never compromised. He strove to inculcate young people, in particular, with a sense of discipline and respect for God’s laws.

For those who didn’t know him (and sadly there were quite a good number), Fr. Murphy was the epitome of fear, strictness and candour.  However, for the very few who knew him well, Fr. Murphy stood for nothing, but what was right.  He stood for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

He was a firm believer in the Latin dictum:- VERITAS LIBERABIT VOS..... The truth shall set you free!  One of his admirable traits was his humility to accept his mistakes.

Fr. Murphy was a great advocate of “inculturation”.  When Baati Lingurer was still in its infancy, and without a home base, he made them welcome at Holy Spirit.  No wonder, he continued to be a crowd puller, especially on feast days, up until his retirement in 2010.

Admiring The Gambia for its religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence, Fr. Murphy once quipped:- “In what other Muslim country would you find a public holiday to honour the Assumption, with a public procession through the streets of the Capital City?  Where else would the Imam (The Muslim Parish Priest) send around a leg of mutton to the Parish Priest (The Catholic Imam) on the occasion of a Muslim feast, in return for a similar gift sent at Christmas or Easter?”

A staunch supporter of local vocations, Fr. Murphy had always insisted that a Church is never truly established, unless it is founded on its own Priests, Sisters and Religious.  In a commentary on the happy occasion of the ordination to the priesthood of Frs. Peter Gomez and Anthony Gabisi on 13th April 1985, Fr Murphy remarked:-

“The missionary’s job is to make himself redundant.  Missionaries are not meant to be a feature permanence in any place”.

28 years later (in 2013), with the number of Gambian Priest and Sisters in double figures, and still counting, it was mission accomplished!  Fr. Murphy’s health deteriorated rapidly, and he had to return to Ireland, much against his wish.  He passed away on Vocations Sunday – 26th April 2015.

He has laboured in this remote corner of the Lord’s vineyard.  He will be counted among the priests, nuns and brothers who ploughed this lonely furrow.  The labour has been tough.  The cost in blood, tears, toil and sweat has been enormous, but well spent.  We salute their valour, as we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the Spiritans.