27 Sept 2022

Reuven Simon and Joseph Sebastian laid to rest

‘We feel bewildered by the sense of loss and the intensity of grief that we have experienced’ - Fr Michael Canny

Remains of Reuven Simon and Joseph Sebastian

Reuven Simon and Joseph Sebastian carried to St Mary's Church, Ardmore. (Image: Tom Heaney)

Mourners from all over Derry, Ireland and beyond gathered in St Mary’s Church, Ardmore on the outskirts of Derry for the joint funeral of friends Reuven Simon (16) and Joseph Sebastian (16).

The teenagers tragically lost their lives when they got into difficulties in Enagh Lough near Strathfoyle on Monday evening.

This morning’s Mass, Eucharist was conducted according to the Rites of the Syro-Malabar Church, to which the teenagers and their families belong. It incorporated  the music and Malayalam language of India.  

The Celebrant was Reverend Father Clement Padathiparambil, National Co-ordinator, Syro-Malabar Church, Ireland.

The concelebrants were: Father Paul Morley, Co-ordinator, Syro Malabar Church, Northern Ireland; Father Joshy Kuttingal, Syro-Malabar Church, Great Britain; Father Joseph Karukayil, Saint Patrick’s Church, Dungiven; Father Jain Mannathukaran CC, Antrim; Father Roni Maliyekkal CC, Saint Eugene’s Cathedral; Father Joshy Parokkaran CC, Glendermott and Strathfoyle and Chaplain Syro-Malabar Church, Derry.

As Mass began, Father Paul Morley said: “We gather to support the families of Joseph and Reuven, their extended families, relatives, friends and community, those gathered here today and those joining us via webcam.

“We gather to give thanks for Joseph and Reuven, for their friendship and example, their faith and the precious memories that we have of them.

“As we left their homes to come to this church, we concluded the first part of the Funeral Rite with these words from St Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy: ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now waiting for me is the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day.’

“And so we gather as people of faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ that he will bring these two beautiful boys now to the fullness of the promise of eternal life received in their Baptism and of the hope it promises to each of us that we will be reunited with them again forever.”

The First Reading (Wisdom 4: 7-15) said: “The virtuous man, though he die before his time, will find rest.”

The Second Reading (Thessalonians 4: 13-18) said: “We believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

The gospel text (Saint John 14: 1-7) said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

In his moving homily,  Father Michael Canny Parish Priest, Vicar General, Waterside Parish, Diocese of Derry said the gospel passage was set in the context of Jesus about to leave this world.  

“He knows that His disciples, His closest friends are troubled,” said Fr Canny. “They are sad, heart-broken, because Jesus, their friend, is about to die and He, in whom they had placed their trust and hope, will not walk this earth with them in physical form again.  Yet He tells them not to let their hearts be troubled but to place their trust in God because there are many rooms in His father’s house.

“Like those disciples all those years ago you, the family of Joseph and Reuven, and indeed all of us in this church and beyond, are troubled and very sad at heart.  You, their parents, brothers, sisters, school friends and extended family are troubled and sad because Joseph and Reuven, who have been a central part of your lives, have been taken from you so suddenly and tragically.  We as a community are also deeply saddened because we have been robbed of two young boys who have left a deep impact on us.

“We all feel bewildered by the sense of loss and the intensity of grief that we have experienced over these last few days.  In the eyes of this world you, their families and this community, have lost two young boys at a beautiful time in their lives when they were filled with hopes and dreams.

“We can easily fall into despair but we are children of the Resurrection.  Joseph and Reuven are children of the Resurrection.  Death can rob us of so much, leave us broken and in tears, but it cannot rob us of love, cannot rob us of hope.  As parents and families you have loved these boys and they will forever be alive in your hearts and memories.  The pain you feel today is in proportion to the love you have for your boys. 

 “Joseph, lovingly called ‘Joppu’ by his family and friends was born on May 11, 2006 in Kerala and he was baptised at two months and, at the tender age of three months, he was brought to Ireland where his parents began a new life in this city.  He attended Good Shepherd Primary School and Saint Columb’s College and should be starting his AS level studies today.  He was a passionate footballer and a great fan of Barcelona.  He also loved cricket and was an active member of Newbuildings Cricket Club.

 “Reuven was born in Altnagelvin hospital and like Joseph he attended Good Shepherd Primary School and Saint Columb’s College where today he should also be starting his AS level studies.  He too enjoyed football, cricket and listening to music as well as films and I am told eating medium-rare steaks.

“Both boys flourished in their education, their gentle kind natures won them much affection among staff and pupils alike.  Our thoughts these days are also with the teachers, staff, their fellow pupils at Saint Columb’s College and the school community of Good Shepherd Primary School.

“As today’s Gospel progresses we learn of the moment that Jesus’s body is taken down from the Cross and placed in the arms of his mother, this must have been a moment of excruciating sadness for her and the disciples.

“Mary, the mother of Jesus, held death in her arms just as you the parents of Reuven and Joseph have done.  Yet the question remains, what do we do with this pain, this loss and sadness?  What do we do when a huge part of our lives have been taken from us?

"As the gospel story progresses we know that death and pain gave way to new life and Resurrection, and it is our faith and belief that Jesus is no longer dead but alive that gives us hope.

“Reuven here in Derry, and Joseph back in Kerala, entered into the life of the Church through the waters of baptism that marked them out as followers of Jesus Christ.  In the course of their short lives they followed Christ faithfully by attending the Eucharist and receiving the sacraments and living out a life of love for parents, family, friends, classmates and teachers not to mention the many others who were touched by their kindness and courteous manner.

“Joseph and Reuven’s families, you have made this city your home, a city and a people that are no strangers to pain and deep suffering.  You as families who are suffering so sorely can now draw from that deep well of empathy and love that your adoptive city is so ready and willing to offer.

“Today, with sad and heavy hearts, in faith and hope we commend Reuven and Joseph in prayer to the Lord.  Amen,” said Fr Canny.  

Following Communion, tributes were paid to Reuven and Joseph by members of the North West community to whom the teenagers were known.

Mr Finbarr Madden the Principal of St Columb's College said their form teacher, Ms Barr, told them the boys were "a gift every day to our school and the wider community".

"They were loyal to each other and never separated. They laughed together, worked together and supported one another as best friends should always do. We are so blessed that we have had the privilege to know them and to call them College boys."

Ms Naomi Wilson, Mr Clement Kerlin and Ms Cathy Glass, Altnagelvin Area Hospital colleagues of the boy's parents, spoke movingly about Reuven and Joseph and their families.

Mr Joseph Agusta, Head of Sunday school spoke about their religious formation and faith.

Mr Mark H Durkan MLA commended Reuven and Joseph parents for having done a brilliant job with their boys.

"You taught them the value of work, the value of fun, the value of friendship, the value of family, the value of community. You should be proud as a family and as a community."

Reuven and Joseph's friendship group spoke warmly about them, supporting one another. "We will always be there for their parents and siblings" they told the two boys, to applause in the church.

Mr Abraham Sebastian, representing the family of Joseph Sebastian said he had grown into a "special boy" who had "a gentle soul with a desire to help others."

Mr Sebastian also extended thanks to the first responders who were on the scene at Enagh Lough on Monday evening.

Reuven's brother Evin Joe and his cousins recalled him with obvious warmth and emotion.

Their friends said: "Reuven and Joseph always put a smile on our faces with their boisterous personalities."

Giving the poignant final commendation for Reuven and Joseph, Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry said the large numbers who came to their wake over the last days, showed the events of the last few days had been traumatic for many people in this city and community.  

Bishop McKeown added: “These were two great students – intelligent, hardworking and very responsible.

“But our first words of support have to go to the parents and family circle of the two boys who were snatched away from the embrace of the family by what happened at Enagh Lough on Monday.  We know from the Gospel that Jesus wept because of the death of his friend Lazarus.  On this sad day, He weeps with you because of the terrible loss that you have suffered.

“But after the tears, Jesus says to the sisters of Lazarus, and to all of us, that He is the Resurrection and the Life.  Jesus tells us that, despite the tears, death does not have the final laugh.  To all of us He says that life is precious.   It is never a joke or without meaning.

“Our belief in God is not an escape from reality.  It says that there is one whose love is stronger than the harsh reality which life may throw at us.  Our faith tells us that Jesus has carried our cross with us and that we will not be crushed.

“I know that the Syro-Malabar Church community is very strong and close knit.  They will work together to support the bereaved and the traumatised through the next difficult weeks and months.

“This is also a frightening time for many young people and their families.  This is a parent’s worst nightmare.  And it is very unsettling for the teenage friends and colleagues of these two young men who lie before us in their new school uniforms.  It is difficult to accept that life can be very hard.  We are blessed by one another and by a sense of faith when we have to deal with the many tragic losses in life.

“These two boys were a huge gift to all of us in their life.  Today we hand them back, so reluctantly, to the strong hands of the God who made them in love.  We pray that they can be at peace with God and that we can eventually find some peace at their leaving us.  Amen,” concluded Bishop McGowan.

The congregation came forward and presented floral tributes for the boys.

Following Requiem Mass, Reuven and Joseph were carried to their final resting place, the  adjoining cemetery of St Mary’s Church.

Reuven and Joseph's family extended heartfelt thanks to all of the emergency services and the staff of Altnagelvin Area Hospital who helped the boys on Monday.

Reuven Simon and Joseph Sebastian, Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam.

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