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Minister pays tribute to “enormous work” of Irish missionaries

By Sarah Mac Donald - 07 June, 2013

The Minister of State for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, has paid tribute to the “enormous work” done by Irish missionaries throughout the world.

Speaking to ciNews following his address to the ‘Mission, Today and Tomorrow’ conference in All Hallows in Dublin, Minister Costello said, “We feel that the work that they are doing is very much the type of work we are doing in Irish Aid – it is in the poorest areas of the world, working with the poorest communities in education, health, hunger, nutrition, disease.”

He said that was why the Government continued to support to development work of missionaries through their umbrella agency Misean Cara to the tune of €16 million.

In his address to the conference, the Minister described All Hallows as a fitting venue as it had been founded as a Catholic missionary college in 1842.

“Today I would like to recognise the fact that the long tradition and commitment of Irish missionaries has led the way for much of the Irish Government’s approach to development”, he said.

He added that it was Irish missionary work that had given the Irish Government’s aid programme its solid foundation.

“We can say that Irish missionaries were the pioneers in development co-operation, predating Ireland’s official aid programme and deeply influencing its values.”

Minister Costello said Irish people recognise that missionaries, both hundreds of years ago and today, actively choose to work in some of the most challenging and difficult situations in remote communities with the most marginalised and forgotten, for whom poverty, hunger and insecurity were an everyday experience.

The Minister of State for Development said that defining a coherent and effective EU position on the post 2015 MDG agenda has been a major priority for the Irish presidency of the EU.

“I want to emphasise today that I see missionaries as key civil society partners in the achievement of the goals of the Government’s development co-operation programme”, he stated.

The international conference on the future of missionaries and the role of faith-based values in development was addressed by speakers from Nigeria, South Sudan, Kenya, Zambia, Ireland and Australia.

A number of the presentations referred to the historical impact of Irish missionaries on peace-building as well as the social and economic development in Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

In his opening address, Fr Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator  SJ, said that in many people’s mind the “Irish missionary juggernaut has run its course” due to the decline in Irish vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“In erstwhile mission territories, the Irish missionary presence has contracted to a few older Irish-born missionaries with only minimal replenishment from the Irish-based missionary congregations”, the African Jesuit said.

Referring to the “Tsunami of secularisation” which had eroded traditional Catholic culture, he said it had resulted in a dwindling missionary capital.

However, Sr Pat Murray, spokeswoman for Solidarity in South Sudan, an umbrella group of religious orders working to rebuild the world’s newest nation which gained its independence only in 2011 following decades of civil war, told ciNews that age brought wisdom and experience.

“Because we are all grey-haired or white-haired, people are saying it is the end but at this stage in life you have a huge amount of transferrable skills to pass on and you have the wisdom of years – but maybe not the same energy!” the 65-year-old nun said of the work being done by nuns from Irish orders like the Presentations Sisters, Loreto, Mercy and the FCJ in a country starting from scratch.

In her paper on interfaith dialogue, 45-year-old OLA nun, Sr Kathleen McGarvey from Co Donegal, who set up a Christian-Muslim women’s interfaith peace forum in 2010 in the troubled Nigerian city of Kaduna, which has witnessed some deadly attacks by the Islamist Boko Haram group, said religion could act as an agent for peace. She warned against the politicisation religion.

Referring to the instability in northern Nigeria, she said a simple but seriously inadequate reflection sees the Islamist Boko Haram’s campaign of violence as an attempt to Islamise Nigeria and to remove all Christians from the North of the country.

But she underlined that the issue was much more complex than that. “It involves so many factors including a web of lies, manipulations, economic deals, and personal interests, all not unrelated to oil in the Chad basin, the 2015 presidential elections, the money made by security agencies and their partners.”

“The truth is that just as women’s poverty and vulnerability in the region is greater than that of men, due in great part to a patriarchal culture, so too women’s voices and their concerns are often times excluded from Government programmes of response and of mediation in times of conflict and in efforts at reconciliation and peace-building”, she said.

The conference was also addressed by Muslim journalist Amina S. Kazaure, who is involved in the Womens’ Interfaith Council in Nigeria.

She told the conference of priests, nuns and lay missionaries and development workers that, as a committed Muslim, she believed “wholeheartedly” that Islam is “basically a religion of peace, compassion and justice”.

She identified five key issues that contribute “immensely” to intolerance and religious conflict in Nigeria including incompetent zealotry among preachers and religious teachers; extremism, fanaticism and bigotry by some religious leaders, preachers, teachers and a significant number of followers.

Others used religion as a vehicle to amass wealth and or attract followers and other worldly gains and there was also an issue around lack of trust between the followers of the two religions.

Separately a number of Irish lay missionary groups have created a statement of identity on their future and position within the Irish Church.

At the recent meeting, members of groups such as Viatores Christi and Volunteer Missionary Movement (VMM) produced a statement on the involvement of lay people in mission.

Both lay organisations are members of the Irish Missionary Union (IMU) and Misean Cara. The statement states that lay missioanries in Ireland are an integral part of the Irish Church, called and sent to live Gospel values by the witness of our life and our service in areas of need.

“The aim of this, apart from creating this shared statement of identity, is to draw attention to the long term commitment and contribution of lay people serving on mission today and into the future” Sally Roddy, Projects Officer with Viatores Christi, said.

“We hope that this statement will highlight the changing realities of mission and faith-based development today and highlight the need for structures to support the integral role of laity in the work of Irish mission into the future”, she added.

Pic shows Our Lady of Apostle missionary nuns including one of the keynote speakers at the ‘Mission, Today and Tomorrow’ conference in All Hallows in Dublin (l to r) Sr Gabrielle Farrell, Sr Kathleen McGarvey from Nigeria and Sr Mary T Barron. (Photo: Sarah Mac Donald)

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