A gathering of returned missionaries at the I.O.S.A.S Center (Island of Saints and Scholars) in Ireland recalled the long tradition of Irish missionaries leaving families and friends and going to foreign lands for life to bring the Gospel message of God’s love and to build up the community of justice and faith. Hundreds of Irish missionaries lived and worked among the poor and oppressed and brought education and hope to countless people in the Philippines and countries all over the world. Many stayed with the people through war and pestilence and gave hope and help. Several were like Jesus of Nazareth–reviled, betrayed, imprisoned and some were murdered. Why did they do it?
Missionaries going to the developing nations during the past sixty years and more have been shocked and appalled at the extent of hunger and poor farming methods and the inequality and exploitation of small farmers. Many saw the need to help the hungry to feed themselves. They began helping them with economic development projects, human rights advocacy for the oppressed and brought improved methods of food production. The goal was to help the communities to become self-sustaining and to produce more nutritious food and emerge from poverty. The Gospel calls all to share and bring equality and justice to all.
Mission is to strive in many ways to make this a more honest and just world for the poor. All of us should be on mission. Everybody is called to be involved and put our faith into action for the poor. Otherwise as St. James writes, “Faith is dead without action.”
It also means changing political and economic and even the military situation to bring peace, justice and the protection of children from traffickers, sex tourists and abusers. I began my mission many years ago in Olongapo city, a port city and the brothel city of South East Asia. There were dozens of street children and prostituted children, others struggling to survive having been abandoned and left to a very uncertain future. The mission I undertook was to save as many as I could and change the cycle of poverty and exploitation.
I set up the Preda foundation to provide a home and education and therapy so they could have a life of dignity; hundreds have been rescued from jails, brothels and abusers. Others have received an education and employment through the foundation. It continues today. Today, part of that mission is to change the negligent attitudes of local and national government and to establish more democratic ways to bring the people into the decision making process so that policies are made and implemented to better the lives of the people and end corruption.
The G8 states and the smaller nations can help change this situation greatly by linking foreign aid to the people’s participation and progress made by local government in respecting human rights and alleviating poverty and protecting women and children. We can all help in our own way.
Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.