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Galway girl is Pope Francis’ pen pal!



A twelve-year-old Galway girl is just back from Rome and a personal meeting with the Pope – joining children from across the world for a very special event.

Clara Ó Gormáin – a pupil at Scoil Iognáid in Galway city – was one of hundreds of children around the world who were invited to think of a question they’d like to ask Pope Francis.

What they didn’t know is that thirty of them would go into a special new book – and that those questioners would be invited to meet with the Pontiff in Rome, where she presented with the gift of a tin whistle.

Clara – daughter of Brendan O’Gorman and Síne Phelan and living in Devon Park – and the children were flown to Rome for a special meeting with the Pope last week where she gave him a present of a tin whistle.

“He was very kind to us but what I like most was that he took our questions seriously when he answered them – sometimes adults don’t do that with children”, she said in an interview to Irish Jesuit Communications.

The book, Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters From Children Around the Word, has now been published by Irish Messenger Publications and Loyola Press USA.

“The teacher just passed around a page and everyone just asked a question but I still didn’t know what it was for until about four months ago when my dad told me it was being sent with the letters from Europe to the Pope,” she said on her return last week.

Clara’s letter – which she beautifully illustrated herself – is carried in Irish in the book and she wrote: “A Phápa Proinsias, a chara. An airíonn tú mar Phápa gur tú athair ag an domhain iomlán? Mise le Mheas, Clara.”

The Pope responded to her question as to whether or not he liked being a dad to the whole world.

“Every priest likes to feel that he is a father; spiritual fatherhood is truly important. I feel it deeply – I couldn’t think of myself in any other way except as a father and I very much like your drawing with the big heart in which there’s a dad with two little girls. Are you the one with the teddy bear?

“Yes, Clara, I like being a dad,” he replied.

Clara, who has two younger brothers, Breandán and Mícheal, was second eldest of the 30 to meet Francis, with the children from around the world aged from 13 down to five.

She made friends with so many of them – including one seven year old Australian boy Luca, who asked the Pope: “My mum’s in heaven – will she grow angel wings?” pope

“No, no, no, your mum is in heaven – beautiful, splendid and full of life. She hasn’t grown wings, she is still your mum, the person you know – but she is more radiant than ever,” responded Pope Francis.

The Pontiff also reveals so much about himself – like the fact that he cries often, he loves to dance the tango and he’s passionate about soccer.

The questions are carefully thought out and wonderfully original – but so too are the answers….“Dear Pope Francis, if you could do one miracle what would it be”.

“I would heal every child.”

The book is the brain-child of the Jesuit publishing company in Chicago, Loyola Press, headed up by Belfast born Jesuit Paul Campbell. He says the book has received extensive media coverage in the states, featuring on ABC’s Good Morning America. “And it was also in the top ten books selling on Amazon,” according to Fr Campbell.

Messenger Editor Fr Donal Neary SJ, says the Pope expresses a deep theology very simply in his responses to the huge variety of questions so typical of young imaginations.

Scoil Iognáid were only too delighted to be involved in the project from its inception; school principal Laoise Bhreathnach and all the teachers across different classes played their part. But the two teachers who co-ordinated the project were Nóirín Nic Grianna and Caoimhe Ní Fhríghil.

Clara said she would never forget her trip, her meeting – or her new friends from around the world.

“We got lots of tours and too much food but when we actually met the Pope it was amazing. We got a whole hour with him and we all got to ask him questions and he answered them properly – he thought about it and answered with what he actually believed whereas some adults wouldn’t actually do that,” she said.

Now back as a hero among her classmates at Scoil Iognáid, Clara reflected on meeting the Pope and said simply: “He’s very nice and he has a very good sense of humour.

“He is very kind and if can ever do something to change the world he probably will.”

As for her experience? “I’m really, really lucky and I’ll probably remember this for my whole life.”

Dear Pope Francis was published this week by Messenger Publications, priced at €14.99.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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