A glimpse at the life of some priests in a country that was once a great source of vocations, via the BBC:
Even in the formative years of his childhood, Father Chris Ferguson felt his life would be devoted to God.
Growing up in Northern Ireland’s second city, the calling to the priesthood came at the early age of 10.
Fr Chris was ordained at the age of 25 in 2002. He was the sole priest ordained that year in Northern Ireland.
In the two decades since, he has served parishes across his home diocese of Derry.
There are challenges daily: Parish life demands he is often most needed when parishioners face especially difficult or trying times, and when they are at their most vulnerable.
It’s a working life that can take him “through an enormous range of emotions”.
“There are days when it feels like a perfect storm,” Fr Chris told BBC News NI.
“Some might feel the life of a priest is too busy to be lonely.
“But when you come home at night and close the door, you are very aware that you are there on your own.”
Fr Chris has a strong support network of family and friends.
But there is also a sense that something more is missing, something that can compound his sense of isolation.
“Even coming from a faith perspective, it’s clear we are made to be in a relationship,” he says.
“It’s that sense of having someone to talk to, share your day with.”
Ireland’s national seminary, St Patrick’s College Maynooth, was home to more than 300 trainee priests when Pope John Paul II visited the building in 1979.
Within 20 years, their numbers had halved.
There’s also a significant number of men who drop out in the early years of service.
Fr Chris says he knew at least 10 colleagues who had left the priesthood.
“The biggest reason is a desire to be in a relationship,” he says.
The Church, he feels, is facing a stark if simple choice – allow for married priests or face a situation where there are no priests at all.
There’s more. Read it all.