Madison Duddy speaks with Misean Cara Chairperson Justin Kilcullen
Clearly, the work of the missionary orders as represented by the Irish is actually coming to an end. You can see the numbers are declining slowly, but surely, some things evolve in a different way, and we have to be able to continually change to ensure that we continue to make a contribution as long as we can,” says Justin Kilcullen, Chairperson at Misean Cara.
For Justin, the decrease in people joining missionary organisations is upsetting because he believes in the value of missionary work that continues the Church’s long history of evangelisation.”
For Justin, the decrease in people joining missionary organisations is upsetting because he believes in the value of missionary work that continues the Church’s long history of evangelisation.
“Misean Cara is a dynamic organisation,” Justin says. “Since its foundation in 2004, it has channelled over €200 million to thousands of projects in over 90 countries around the world. I find myself repeatedly humbled by the dedication and courage of the missionaries I meet…”
In 2015, Misean Cara asked Justin to join their board as Chairperson after his 20 years as the Director of Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Church. While with Trócaire, Justin worked closely with many missionary congregations and admired their service.
“You can go anywhere, to the most remote community, and you will find a missionary there, living in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, working with people to create opportunities and better lives,” says Justin.
Although his job with Misean Cara is mainly committee work, he says he is thankful for his missionary travels.
“In the month of June, I was in Cebu in the Philippines with the Presentation Sisters, working in the slums of a small ethnic minority group known as the Sea Nomads. They’re a very marginalised group and the sisters have been working with them now for the last 10-15 years, doing an amazing job and helping these people to survive and to discover their own human dignity and to claim their rights. This is just one small example of the hundreds of projects that go on around the world with missionaries every day,” says Justin.
Missionary work uplifts the suffering in society, and Justin emphasises that the work is so important because it is a form of Christian witness.
“There is a new era of missionary work now because in the early years of missionary work, there was a lot of evangelisation, and now what we see is that a lot of the missionary countries establish their own local churches with their local bishops and priests and local orders of nuns and so on,” Justin says. “I think missionary work now is about standing in solidarity with these new emerging Church structures, continuing to give what experience we have to help them and at the same time continuing the work at the grassroots, and working in the villages and in the communities. I think development work is very important and I call it the work of justice.”
Missionary work has been a vital part of the structure of the Church since its earliest days, according to Justin. Although the work of missionaries has evolved, its value is unchangeable.”
Missionary work has been a vital part of the structure of the Church since its earliest days, according to Justin. Although the work of missionaries has evolved, its value is unchangeable.
“The Synod of Bishops working in Rome in the early 1970s specifically discussed the social justice work of the Church and made a very clear statement that the work of justice is a constituent part of the preaching of the Gospel,” says Justin. “In the early days of missionary life, the preaching of the Gospel was overtly preaching the Word of God. I think at this stage the local churches are initially doing that and continuing to preach the Gospel through the work of justice.”
Having grown up in a traditional Irish Catholic family from Dublin, faith has always been a significant part of Justin’s life. He was called to a life of missionary work and is grateful every day for the 40 years he has dedicated to it, saying it has been “rewarding, personally and spiritually”.
It has made my life, and I like that I have been able to enjoy and make my contribution to the common good.”
“It has made my life, and I like that I have been able to enjoy and make my contribution to the common good,” says Justin.
Even so, he understands that not everyone has the call to missionary work. As he put it, “people have to do other things as well to make society function”. But for those who heed the call, they can look forward to fulfilling experiences through service.
“There are people who are interested and have a natural inclination to serve other people, and one way to do that, particularly from a faith perspective, is missionary work,” says Justin. “It doesn’t have to be for life as it is for people who have been consecrated in religious orders or ordained as priests, but something that can be done for a period of time.
“It all depends on how it works out for different people, but I think that their missionary work is part of the witness of the Church to behold Jesus for mankind.”