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‘I was always three dimensional, not two dimensional. I felt like I was in the Truman Show.’

'It was just a feeling; people around seemed to be cardboard cutouts. I had this other third dimension, feeling emotion or something, that other people didn’t seem to have. A sensitiveness. Not a judgement, just an awareness. Everyone has a third dimension but when you’re young you’re not aware. Everyone existed but I had this other thing … neither good nor bad, better or worse. It was just something. I felt this from when I was quite young. I didn’t experience other peoples’ feelings.'

‘I never told people I wanted to be a priest not because I didn’t want to be a priest, but because of their reaction: all the questions, why would you want to do that, are you gay, what about marriage and celibacy, etc? Anyway, I do have a relationship: to God. It’s an on-off relationship, but we talk. Sometimes he listens.’


Two years ago he lay dying on the hard earth of a shanty town. As his life blood gushed out he stumbled away, trying to escape the men who had just shot him at point blank range.

"The third shot was like a fist going right up into my body. I really felt that," says the mild-mannered Belfast priest with a shudder. He pauses for a moment, licking his lips.

"I felt so alone … abandoned," states Father Kieran Creagh, as he remembers the night in February 2007, when a criminal gang attacked his South African hospice.

"They just rang the bell outside in the courtyard and I thought, 'oh, something must have happened in one of the wards'. I didn't realise these guys were inside. I opened the door … and that's when they grabbed me."

Leratong – the name means "place of love" in one of the six local languages spoken here – had been set up by Father Creagh in 2004, a single-minded effort to help tackle the massive HIV/AIDS crisis crushing the nation. With its hospice beds, drug clinic and creche, it was at the physical and spiritual heart of the community.

A member of the Passionist religious order, Creagh had spent over a decade seeing his congregation succumb to the deadly disease. In the overcrowded, poverty-stricken township of Atteridgeville, about an hour west of the capital Pretoria, he had watched as old men lay dying in filthy shacks, unable to move; attended by wives who were scarcely less sick.

He felt passionately about bringing dignity to the dying: it was his vision and determination, despite funding problems, political obstructions and the South African government's refusal to provide anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), that had led to Leratong's birth.

The irony was that he was now facing the end of his own, most extraordinary, life.

The amazing story of Father Kieran Creagh.




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Photo ©Marc Shoul