A few weeks ago Maria Johnson, Director of Hispanic Ministry, sent a note to Columban Father Maurice Foley asking him to write some articles about his missionary experience. Following 20 years in Korea and 36 years in Latin America, Fr. Maurice returned to his home country of Ireland. Following please find Fr. Foley’s response to Maria’s request and her reflection:
“Many thanks, Maria for your very kind message of yesterday. If I was in my good health, you would have my best efforts for an article about my experiences on Mission in Latin America already. However, I am a sick man. I have bone cancer and while I love Latin America I just don’t have the energy to write an article. Having said all that, I will make an effort to write you one as soon as possible. My problem is not lack of desire. My problem is lack of control. I fall asleep when I least want to. Pain interrupts my best desires as well… Just leave it to me and I will see what I can do for you.”
I felt almost embarrassed that Mossie (as his friends call him), was going to make such an effort to help the Columban missions among the Latino community. I was not going to press him anymore, but the very next week I received an article from him.
I see in him the spirit of very special people. Difficulties do not discourage them and if they feel discouraged, they just keep moving and pushing forward. They live among the very poor, when if they had wanted, they could live with much more comfort in their own countries and near friends and family. They leave their land, their language, and customs, and with simplicity and affection they adopt ways of living that for most of us would be quite hard. I remember one day I said to Fr. Liam Carey, an Irishman who is a missionary in Lima that I had seen his picture with a motorcycle in this poor area where there are only dirt roads. I said “it must be real hard to work in that area.” He responded: “the people are so wonderful and generous even though they have so little, you receive much joy from them, it’s not sacrifice at all.”
I sense the grace and joy of people like Fr. Maurice and Fr. Liam who have missionary spirits. I realized their freedom of spirit in not being dragged along by things, they carry the weight of the cross with serenity and peace. They live for others, and although they are always giving, they do not seem to lack anything.
At the end of a long life devoted to love and serving God in the poor, Fr. Maurice still strives to share his life with others and to be of service. The last paragraphs of the The Vast Beyond a beautiful poem he wrote a couple of years ago seem to sum up their spirit and their way:
The spirit of my own Galilee is revealed
When I look out to sea and all messages are tumbling free
From the wavelets of the sea
And brings me home safe and sound where blessings of God most abound
The sea can betray, the sea can destroy
And the sound of powerful waves breaking, can annoy
But the view of monstrous breakers frothing menacingly
Provokes a mood that wreaks destruction on hypocrisy
Which is, struggling for what cannot be.
Let the poor and destitute view the immensity
That springs free from the never-ending sea
That reflects the saving love of a Son
Who was crucified on a tree
Notwithstanding that He calmed the sea of Galilee
The uncharted sea of ambivalence, misunderstanding and
Error inundates our pilgrim life with strife
And somewhere in that heavenly horizon
There comes a grace which grows apace and rescue me.
In the everyday of our lives God call us to break free and embrace the grace that call us to live transformed by a missionary spirit.
Maria Johnson is the Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Missionary Society of St. Columban.