RTE Documentary Focuses on Dedicated Missionaries

Filmmaker, Ruán Magan , who made On God’s Missions has taken a more in-depth look at the lives of missionaries in a new documentary airing on RTE 1, on Thursday evening at 10.15pm.

Lifers, as the program is called, refers to a prison life sentence of 30 years which is also the average period Irish missionaries spend working in the service of the poor and oppressed, and often in dangerous and isolated conditions. Ruán Magan travelled 22,000 miles to some of the world’s remotest places, in Papua New Guinea, South Sudan and the Amazon region of Brazil. He spent two weeks each with of the three missionaries and, knowing what an incredibly challenging and difficult life they lead, he wanted to explore more deeply their motivation.

“I was really interested to find out is there one simple thing that keeps them going. It was ‘give and you receive’,” Ruán Magan told catholicireland.net. “No matter how hard it is, and it is hard, they do get depressed, and they do struggle with celibacy, being alone, the danger and all these things. But what keeps them going is that they are helping someone else. None of them would give it up. The two priests have been attacked on several occasions and have had death threats against them and seen their religious colleagues killed, but they wouldn’t think of giving it up.”

The missionaries include Fr John Glynn, a priest who runs the We Care Foundation in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s most dangerous cities. John, originally from County Clare, has spent 50 years working in Papua New Guinea. In the documentary he is seen visiting a disabled girl who is locked in her home all day (for her own safety) when the parents are out. He arranges to talk to the parents, get her a wheelchair and healthcare. As he leaves the very dangerous township where she lives, he seems all too aware of huge task to help the countless vulnerable people there. He says: “There is never enough.”

Fr Pat Brennan, a Divine Word Missionary who has lived in Brazil for more than 30 years, fights for the human rights of indigenous Indians living in the Amazonian rain forest. This can involve anything from advocating in the courts for the land rights of tribes, to confronting rogue loggers who destroy the forests and are often armed with guns.

Sr Pat Murray, a Loreto sister who worked in education in Ireland, is now the executive in charge of Solidarity with South Sudan, an organization that is pooling the resources of 200 missionary orders towards the basic development needs of South Sudan. She says she watched her parents, a teacher and a Department of Education official, give a lifelong dedication to building a new Ireland. Now she is involved in building up South Sudan which is the newest country in the world and has very little infrastructure.

One project involves training young Sudanese people as teachers, nurses and health workers so the country becomes self sufficient. This goes some way towards continuing the legacy of the missionary movement which once attracted thousands of Irish men and women. The three missionaries featured in the film know that they are amongst the last of their kind and no-one will replace them.

There is another legacy of sorts involving businessman Denis O’Brien. He helped with funding for the documentary through his charity the Iris O Brien Foundation named after his mother. Roger Child, religious programming editor RTE told catholicireland.net:

“Wherever he has gone in the world, he has found doors opening to him as an Irish entrepreneur, because of the positive legacy of Irish missionaries, who, out of sight of Irish eyes, have quietly built Ireland’s moral capital worldwide and contributed hugely to the education, health and development of countless countries.”

So he made his own contribution through the Irish O’Brien Foundation which has also provided funding for other films about Irish missionaries. Some of these have been made by Ruán Magan, director of Lifers. He was also involved in the series The Radharc Squad which was nominated for an IFTA award.

That series and an online exhibition can be viewed on the RTÉ Archives website: www.rte.ie/archives

By Ann Marie Foley


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