Irish missionaries who have returned from abroad are rejuvenating the Church here by bringing new life and skills learnt in countries where the Faith is more vibrant, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly has said.
He said that Irish parishes and communities can learn a lot from the “wisdom” of missionaries who have worked where the Church is small and often struggling.
As the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday this weekend, Archbishop O’Reilly told The Irish Catholic that despite a decrease in numbers and an aging demographic many missionaries continue to be “very active” upon their return to Irish parishes.
“I have noticed that the missionaries who have returned – whether they’re religious sisters, brothers or priests – engage themselves very actively in quite a number of areas in the local Church in Ireland and they’re quite significant,” he said.
With many coming from vibrant parishes abroad with multitudes of young people who value Church groups to engage with, Archbishop O’Reilly – a member of the Society of African Missionaries – said: “They are no longer young themselves and they would see how important it is that young people draw young people.
“They actively contribute and participate because they see the real value in groups around care for creation, or around special areas of prayer and reflection…they would know themselves from their experience outside that these draw young people and that’s why they would be committed to it in the hope here again, they may draw young people,” he said.
Regarding the changed cultural climate missionaries have returned to, Archbishop O’Reilly – who is also chair of the national mission council – said that often the missionaries “are very far ahead” of the Irish experience.
“They’re very far-seeing: they’ve lived and worked in cultures and countries where the Church is a minority group…it’s not like here where there is a cultural dominance of the Church, they’re very open to being able to dialogue and to work in that reality and they can bring that wisdom back into here. I think it’s very important.”
The provincial of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles in Ireland and Tanzania Sr Kathleen McGarvey said that she believes “wholeheartedly” that mission in Ireland today is urgent, with a need to help people see the relevance of God, faith and the Church in their lives.
Although it can be “demoralising” for some on their return, she said that “missionaries are rising to the challenge and so many missionaries have got involved in very meaningful ministries here.”
Fr Michael O’Sullivan the Director of World Missions Ireland, said that many missionaries are currently working with charities and are helping refugees and migrants in Ireland and are innately adaptable people.
Speaking of their return to Ireland and the challenges that brings, Fr O’Sullivan said: “Where they have gone, in Africa or wherever, they’ve had to learn new languages and new cultures so this would be another transition in what for many has been a life where they’ve been able to adapt to new ways of looking at things, particularly language and culture.
“When they come back to Ireland, the Ireland that they know today is very different…there’s a lot of work to be done in Ireland and I’d think their experience is invaluable.”