By Susan Gately - 21 July, 2018
A Catholic priest is making an epic journey the length of Ireland to raise awareness and money for two motor neurone disease organisations.
Fr Tony Coote, parish priest at Mount Merrion, Dublin, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) earlier this year.
His fundraising journey, “Walk While You Can”, began in Letterkenny, Donegal, on 10th July and is due to finish in Ballydehob, Cork, on 6th August.
Fr Coote is making the journey in 28 stages. Yesterday he was on stage 11 – Claremorris to Tuam. Speaking to CatholicIreland on the road to Tuam, he said he was feeling “brilliant”. The Dublin priest had spent a couple of days in Knock this week, where he spoke at Mass.
“We have 40 today [walking with me]. We have different people every day and some are doing the whole thing. It’s great to see so many people coming out walking,” he said.
Fr Coote explained that while others were walking, he could not physically walk the more than 500km from Letterkenny to Ballydehob. “I couldn’t physically walk that far myself because I fall. I’m being pushed in a mountain trike,” he said. “It’s a great way to see Ireland, and there is great hospitality in towns all over the place.”
So far, the “Walk While You Can” campaign has raised over €150,000, with a lot of additional money being donated by people along the way. The money raised will go to the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Research Motor Neurone.
The former chaplain from UCD came up with the idea of “Walk While You Can” as a means of raising both awareness and money. “The Government gives no funding to motor neuron [disease] and we need more research and more nurses to care for those who are sick.”
On his website Fr Tony explains that the only medication for MND is 24 years old. “The Motor Neurone Disease Association can only provide three nurses for the whole country, with just over 400 people living with this illness. Their salaries are paid for by church gate collections.”
Fr Coote, who used to play squash twice a week, received his diagnosis in March 2018. “I have got used to the idea. I’m adapting and that’s the best way to live,” he told CatholicIreland.
He said it had had no impact on his faith. “It is really the suddenness of change that has affected me, like it would affect anyone. It’s like a whirlwind. I have great faith. I often think of the prophet Abraham who never reached the promised land, and yet he remained faithful to what he was asked to do in the mission of life. So I feel like that myself.”
RTÉ is filming Fr Coote’s walk for a documentary to be aired later in the year. People wishing donate to the Motor Neuron Disease Association and Research Motor Neuron through “Walk While You Can” may do so at www.wwyc.ie.