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Bishop O'Reilly Launches Exhibition at New Missionary Centre

Mission and missionaries are evolving, Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Chairperson of the Catholic Bishops’ National Mission Council, has said.

Speaking after he opened a new missionary centre in Dublin which brings together missionary resources and the offices of the IMU, the Bishop of Ardagh and Clomacnois praised the decision to locate the new centre in the heart of Dublin’s business hub. “It is a good idea to be seen in the middle of the real world. The real world is where missionaries belong – that is where interest needs to be rekindled”, he told ciNews. Bishop O’Reilly added, “I have no doubt that there is a place in society today for renewed interest in mission.”

Referring to the recent documentary ‘Lifers’ which give an insight into the mission work of three Irish missionaries, the Bishop said, “It made me think – we have a great story to tell and it needs to be heard. It is not all in the past, it is real and happening today.”

Bishop O’Reilly suggested that the largest international gathering of Irish Christian missionaries, which will take place in Co Donegal next month as part of ‘The Gathering’, would also help renew the interest in Ireland’s missionaries and their legacy.

‘Welcome Home to Missionaries’ will see hundreds of Irish missionaries take part in a weekend of events which will coincide with the feast day of one of the Irish Church’s most important missionaries – St Columba. It also falls on the 1450th anniversary of his first mission to the island of Iona.

“There is a lot of talk at the moment about our emigrants, those who have been forced to emigrate. Missionaries have not been forced to emigrate and yet there is a dimension of emigration that they represent”, Bishop O’Reilly said. “The Gathering wouldn’t be complete unless their experience was included in some fashion,” he commented.

The weekend of events will take place from Friday 7 June to Sunday 9 June at the IOSAS Centre in Lenamore, Muff, Co Donegal. It will be launched by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh.

According to Columban priest, Fr Hugh Mac Mahon, who spent thirty years in South Korea before spending another fifteen years in Hong Kong, there are over 1,600 Irish missionaries around the world currently.

Having returned home to Ireland last September, Fr Mac Mahon is now Executive Secretary of the Irish Missionary Union, an umbrella body for 83 missionary orders who have members in 84 countries.

He said the new centre just off Pearse Street in Dublin had been launched in the heart of the capital in order to engage with the many people for whom mission means nothing.

“We want to get talking to more people. Many have very old fashioned ideas about mission and missionaries and we have to get out and show a new vision.”

He said that in June and July the centre plans to host speakers on Monday evenings who will talk about the Latin American Church as well as the Asian and the African Churches. “It will be a sharing where people can learn about what those Churches think they have to offer the world and to Ireland.”

Currently the new missionary centre houses a permanent exhibition titled ‘1500 Years of Irish Mission’ while another temporary exhibition displays letters sent by Irish missionary, Bishop Edward Galvin from China between 1912-1916 to his family and friends before he returned to Ireland to set up the Columban Order or the Maynooth Mission to China, as it was known then, in 1918.

Speaking about the permanent exhibition, Fr Mac Mahon, who is a brother of Vincentian Sister, Bernadette Mac Mahon, said ‘1500 Years of Irish Mission’ is divided into five eras. It asks the questions of each era: Who went – what did they do – where did they go – why did they do it - and what did they achieve?

“There was a time when Ireland was a mission country officially”, Fr Mac Mahon noted. “The Vatican saw Ireland as a mission country during Penal times when priests who were studying in Europe came back to Ireland to work here.”

He added, “During my research that was one of the interesting things that came up was how mission changes over the years.”

Speaking of the changing context today, he said that two of the IMU’s member groups were lay mission groups, Viatores Christi and Volunteer Missionary Movement.

“It is easy to say the laity will be the centre of mission in the future but that is actually revolutionary in many ways because the Catholic Church isn’t currently set up to accommodate that. A lot of the other Christian Churches are. It is easy for them to send trained people overseas because they can come back and be absorbed into the system.”

He suggested that the Catholic Church had yet to grapple with how to integrate lay missionaries’ needs into the missionary endeavour.

Sarah Mac Donald


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