by Paula Moore

Today I am early, almost thirty minutes to be exact. Normally I am running behind time, accumulating excuses in my head and apologising for my easygoing manner. But not today, this morning is the beginning of our Mol An Óige summer scheme, nine years operating and as exciting as the first.

I glance around the room and I want to be a child again, I want to be among the smiling faces of innocence, to feel their eagerness and have the same laughter as that child that penetrates the atmosphere. I want to experience the happiness they feel when they see their favourite leader, and I want to dance the funky chicken without feeling silly and insecure. I am early today, but as I am taken back 16 years I am a little too late to enrol my inner child for this amazing week! I would say there are at least sixty plus active members who all feel they want to be ten years old again when volunteering and delivering this summer scheme to over 130 children in different estates across Derry.

I am a member of the Derry Search Youth Group, and I am a volunteer for many of the unique programmes that we deliver across the city, including the Mol An Óige summer scheme, but who are we? And where do we come from?


Where Do We Come From?

I could spend all evening giving you in-depth details of the wonderful beginnings of Derry Search Youth group, including times, dates, and places, but it wouldn’t be very exciting, so, I am going to tell you a story.

In the Creggan area of Derry on a late summer’s evening it was business as usual – army troops, tanks and check-points; the familiar sounds of guns and bombs as many scarpered home for shelter. As foot patrols were heavy on the ground, the typical young people from the area were gathered in street corners and various locations plotting their next task – making their petrol bombs and cutting their balaclavas! Maybe I am being dramatic, but you get the picture.  The young people growing up in these times had no alternatives, and no escape from the harsh reality that their lives would never be the same. The sound of guns as familiar as the sound of rain, and the death of a friend, neighbour, or comrade a little easier to deal with than the last.

On this particular evening a group of adults got together and offered twenty to thirty young people a place to gather without their petrol bombs and balaclavas. An empty community hall in the heart of Creggan was filled with conversation, cups of tea and the odd prayer.

The next week they did the same, only this time they had not enough polystyrene cups to go around. They opened their doors to over 100 young people from every part of the city. These meetings became a regular thing as they met once a week and talked and prayed, and cried, for all they had experienced and for what was yet to come.

Already well-known and initiated in over 75 dioceses in America, Search was well established and deemed successful. On the 4th of July in 1985 from the darkened and damaged estates of our wee city came 40 young people all the way to Knock to participate in a Search retreat. The first Irish branch – Derry Search Youth Group – was born.






Derry Search Youth Group has been ingrained in this City for almost 30 years, from its initial birth during the troubles in the 80’s until now, we have continued to deliver youth ministry, the message of Christ and the Love of God to every individual young person (and there have been thousands!) that has darkened our doorway.

After the return from Knock, Search held its very first retreat weekend in Letterkenny. This weekend was one of the first ministerial youth retreats to develop from the Cursillo movement with a “youth relating to youth” approach, or in other words peer-leadership.


I am to highly commend Sr Susan Evangelist for her involvement and spiritual influence on this very first Search weekend – amongst many others who throughout the years have encouraged and supported us tirelessly. I know that every Search member probably has a list as long as their arms of people they would like to thank and mention in this article, including myself. We thank you all, to the leaders, and contributors throughout all the years we are grateful, but one name that would be prominent in each of our lists would be that of Martin McLaughlin.

One of the adults that opened the doors of the community hall all those years ago, and travelled to Knock, and helped direct the initial Search weekend, Derry Search youth group would likely be non-existent without Martin’s presence, encouragement, and years of perseverance. No young person has experienced a Search programme without meeting and feeling inspired by the powerful words and actions of this man. Not only is he the backbone of our organisation, but the motivation behind all of us, a true man of God.

Who Are We?

I began this article describing the greatness of our Mol An Óige summer scheme because I wanted to give you an insight to some of the wonderful work that we do. As well as our successful summer schemes and weekly meetings, Search provides enrichment days (school retreats) during Easter and Christmas, educational programmes for children and young people, the STAR programme and residential retreats for children age 9-13 years, reflective devotions during masses, prayer and praise events, youth training courses, and much more.



But since long before these summer schemes, and various projects,  Search has been quietly living and thriving and supporting young people, especially through the continued support that we offer following on from these retreats.

Search has met on a Sunday night every week since that trip to knock in various locations around the city.  What we do in these meetings has changed the lives of many young people in this town. We talk, we discuss, we laugh, we cry, we pray, we make friends, and above all, we hope.

These meetings in my own experience have ignited a spark within me. Search has given me hope and a faith, many friends and a journey of discovery. And I believe that somewhere profound, within all of us, lives a glimmer or a spark, we all have a need to be loved and accepted, especially in a world that can appear grim and dark.

I remember reading a piece somewhere that inspired me to believe in this “spark”, an author (Parsons 2002) makes a similar suggestion, he believes everyone has a divine spark within them, we just need to be there to draw it out, to help others make sense of it, to accept their divine spark and live it out in their daily lives.

The Divine Spark
“Because of the divine spark we must never give up on people. No matter how unpromising the background someone comes from, no matter how far they may have gone astray, damaged themselves by drugs, alcohol or whatever the cause may be, we must never give up. This, I believe, should be the driving force of those of us who want to help young people”.

This beautiful quote reminds me of  Romans 8:16,  OUR spirit, although we are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are told, “It is that very spirit, bearing witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.” This passage highlights how the spirit dwells within each of us and In my opinion, this quote sums up the ethos of Derry Search Youth Group.

In the thirty years of its operation, there has been no young person turned away. When we look for the divine spark within our young people we can help them take responsibility for their actions, and somehow prepare them to find their purpose – to find that something greater, more powerful, than themselves, and give them hope. Like many of us searchers throughout the years they will learn to recognise and nurture their divine spark.

This article has only briefly described the life and work of the Search organisation, as it is beyond my comprehension or ability to do so on a larger scale

When we re-imagine youth ministry as sharing a place with others we will be able to see human to human relationships as the location of God’s presence in the world, beautiful words according to Bonhoeffer (1984).

This article demonstrates just that, “human to human relationships”, from the streets of Creggan to the journey to Knock, to a retreat in Letterkenny, and the walls of St Joseph’s Parish centre, Derry Search Youth Group can be seen to demonstrate and locate God’s presence in the world and in Derry. And to quote the remaining words of Bonhoeffer (1984), we can “honour the broken and yet beautiful humanity of adolescents.”

I am a young woman from Creggan.  I was born long after the Troubles, and long after the birth of Search, and I was born as we all are, innocent. And still, by my adolescent years that innocence had long disappeared, to be replaced with insecurity and broken experiences.

We are one and the same, we all have broken experiences, and throughout our lives, these experiences both positive and negative determine our perspective of God and spirituality. I cannot speak true for every “Searcher” but I can speak for me and from my own spiritual journey. I know that challenges can arrive in life that may result in testing what our true beliefs are, and I know that deep within myself there is a divine spark that silently reassures me and grounds my spiritual awareness. I believe that I need to feed my spirit and bank grace each day, and most of all the spiritual fulfilment I get from watching how young people take a risk and grasp their faith is what makes our organisation unique.

The Search experience allows us to honour our broken yet beautiful humanity of adolescents.

Paula Moore