“Always try and say YES. And when you have to say NO, try and make it sound as much like YES as possible”.

(Archbishop Helder Camara)

A Christian, and especially a Christian priest, should find saying NO painful.

This week I had to say NO to a family who live in England and are members of the Irish Travelling Community.

They arrived with a young couple they wanted married.

Prior to their visit I was told that they two young people were 16.

Currently in Northern Ireland people aged between 16 and 18 can be married with the written consent of both parents.

The normal procedure is to fill out all the necessary forms and to lodge those forms with supporting documents with the state registrar.

After 28 days the Marriage Schedule is issued and the couple can marry.

However, in this case one of the young people was not 16.

The young couple had run away from their families and the girl was pregnant.

In the Travelling Community a young girl in that position, and not married is shamed in the Community forever and her child referred to as a “bastard child” forever.

I had to say no to performing a ceremony for them.

They all went away very sad and downhearted and not knowing where to turn.

The Travelling Community have a very long history of very young marriages and from what I can gather the divorce rate in the Community is very low.

I have been working with their Community for over 40 years.

I do not know how this case will work out.

I find it very difficult not to help, to have to say no.