Monday 24 October 2016

Let your children go on J1 trips to US - Berkeley priest

Published 20/05/2016 | 02:30

The collapsed balcony that caused the tragedy in Berkeley. Photo: AP
The collapsed balcony that caused the tragedy in Berkeley. Photo: AP

The San Francisco-based priest who helped the families of the Berkeley balcony tragedy victims has said parents should still encourage their children to go on J1 trips this summer.

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Fr Brendan McBride, who received international praise for his efforts last June, said his Californian community was still trying to come to terms with the deaths of the six students - but was preparing for a new influx of young Irish people.

As the first anniversary of the tragedy approaches, Fr McBride said: "Parents will always worry but you have to allow them to go.

"Most people will tell you, they dip their toes in the States through the J1 programme. This was a horrific tragedy, but I don't think parents would want their kids not to have the opportunity to see what the States is all about. Some come back and make careers."

Fr McBride was speaking to the Irish Independent in Washington where he was asked to take part in a tree planting ceremony at Capitol Hill alongside Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The Donegal native said he still got upset talking about the deaths of Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Nick Schuster, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke and Irish-American Ashley Donohoe.

They perished and seven of their friends were seriously injured after falling to the ground when a fourth-floor balcony on a Berkeley apartment gave way last June.

Mr Kenny praised the cleric's "extraordinary Christianity and humanity" during a brief speech in front of a number of US congressmen.

The Taoiseach recalled how he was at a Cabinet meeting when he was passed a message suggesting some Irish people were involved in an accident in the US. "It was an extraordinary event in the relationship of our two countries," he said.

Fr McBride said the next few weeks would be "really tough" for the families and friends of the victims.

"You feel for the families, We will have an anniversary mass and event, It helps the community to gather. They gathered last year. They need to be with their own around that time," he said.

"I do get emotional sometimes thinking about it, because it draws you back to the pain of the parents. I get emotional and I sometimes can't talk about it."

Fr McBride is the founder of the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Centre in San Francisco. Last year he was one of 10 recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards.

Irish Independent

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