Misean Cara marks 20 years of missionary support

Misean Cara marks 20 years of missionary support Br. Hugo Cacéres of the Christian Brothers, pictured here in 2014 teaching at the Fey y Alegria School, a missionary education project of Edmund Rice Development outside Lima, Peru. Photo: Edmund Rice Development
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This year, Misean Cara is celebrating 20 years of supporting Irish missionaries around the world, aiding and empowering these silent heroes in their efforts to provide a better quality of life for “those left farthest behind”.

Their 79 members spread throughout over 50 countries work with the world’s poorest and most marginalised, with a particular focus on education, health, sustainable livelihoods and human rights.

While much has been said and written about the contribution Irish missionaries have made across the globe, there is a real danger that as their numbers dwindle, Ireland will forget. This would be a tragedy of immense proportions because, as Misean Cara’s CEO, John Moffett tells The Irish Catholic, in his 30 years working in international development, the work our religious have done abroad is “some of the highest quality development work” he’s come across.


“My main experience is in Africa, really, but the legacy in Africa of the building of education systems, health systems, in countries that back when Irish missionaries were going overseas were newly independent and didn’t have that backbone of public service we’re reliant on. They continue to flourish to this day.

“They’re still some of the most exceptional educational and health establishments across the continent, run by or having been established by missionary organisations and that’s an amazing legacy to have,” Mr Moffett says.

What sets the work that missionaries do apart from that done by other aid organisations, Mr Moffett says, is its patience.

“What’s very different about the missionary approach to development as opposed to other ways of NGO operating is that it’s very patient. Missionaries tend to be there for the long haul and I suppose where their strengths really lie and what I’ve observed myself from my own experience is that there’s no one better placed to reach the poorest,” Mr Moffett says.

“They have an ability to establish themselves within communities, really get to understand what the issues are and really work with people on the ground to identify what their own ambitions are for their development and respond to that in a human way. So rather than maybe parachuting in with established approaches to how you’re going to do development, they very much learn on the ground and work with people to identify their own development needs and their own ambitions. I think there’s a way the missionaries are able to work with people that’s both patient and kind and human that other NGOs possibly don’t in the same way.

You ask yourself, ‘What is it that drives them’? Obviously, it’s their faith. They get a certain grace to carry them through”

“It’s a very human centred approach which I really appreciate,” he says.

Misean Cara Board Chair, Kevin Carroll echoes Mr Moffett’s words with a specific example to illuminate the depth of commitment Irish missionaries have to the people they’re helping.

“One of the first things they [missionaries] have to do is learn the local language, for example. That might seem a small thing, but when you learn the local language, it gains you an entry into a community. You’re more trusted,” Mr Carroll says, adding that the other significant thing that has stood out to him is their willingness to work in “difficult areas” that other aid organisations might shy away from.

“You ask yourself, ‘What is it that drives them’? Obviously, it’s their faith. They get a certain grace to carry them through. Some of them have unfortunately paid with their lives for the work they did, lost their lives because they stood up for human rights, many were killed but it doesn’t deter them. That’s what differentiates for me the missionaries.”


The last 20 years of Misean Cara have born lasting fruit, with the missionary work they’ve supported instilling a better quality of life for struggling communities across Latin America, Africa and Asia. What will the next 20 years look like, especially as Irish missionaries dwindle in number? “Different,” is Mr Carroll’s answer.

“It’s going to be different. Different in the sense that you won’t have that many Irish missionaries serving overseas. There will still be some, there are some younger missionaries there, but there’s not that many.

“But what you have in the last 10-20 years, even further back, is you have a lot of missionaries from countries where Irish missionaries have worked who have joined,” Mr Carroll says, explaining that the nations Irish missionaries flocked to decades ago are now bearing their own fruit in terms of vibrant vocations.

Author and expert on Irish missionary tradition and former board chair of Misean Cara, Matt Moran explains just how Misean Cara has been able to carry out its life-enhancing work over the last 20 years.

“In the 1970s, the Irish Government saw how effective missionaries were in delivering such a broad range of services and infrastructure. They saw how missionaries were integrated into the communities they served, and how solidarity, accompaniment and sustainability were central to their ethos and values. Importantly, they also saw how development aid got directly to those for whom it was intended and at low cost,” he tells The Irish Catholic.

“The missionaries are a good conduit for the effective delivery of aid. They are a wise investment because as Dr Vincent O’Neill who was Head of Planning in Irish Aid said to me in 2011, the missionaries give a broader reach to Ireland’s Overseas Aid Programme into remote areas that otherwise it could not reach.


“That makes Ireland’s programme quite unique. Missionaries deliver exceptional value for money,” he says.

With the Government providing the bulk of the over €300 million Misean Cara has received and disbursed to its members across the globe through its Irish Aid programme, Mr Moffett says they have the taxpayer to thank for enabling them to support Ireland’s missionary heritage and tradition, adding that every cent is “very much appreciate

For more information visit www.miseancara.ie