A priest from my local parish worked on the Missions. He came home every few years and was always a welcome visitor to our school and sometimes he said Mass in the parish. He was different from our regular priests, warm and friendly, full of life, always joyful and engaging. His sharing about his life in the ‘bush’ was the first time for us to meet someone who had been to Africa. The ‘Apostolic Work’ group in the parish worked tirelessly to raise funds and they made beautiful vestments and altar clothes for him to carry home.
One day he came to visit our classroom, it must have been during Lent, and he saw a chart on the wall. All our names were written down along the left-hand side of the page, and then according to how much money we gave for the ‘black babies’, a coloured line displayed our generosity. That year it was a bit of a competition between me and the son of the local doctor to see who would give the most. As the other lad drew ahead of me, and all my pocket money and the savings from eating sweets was spent, I liberated a few coins from my dad’s pocket and drew well ahead. Fr Nicky wanted to know who these two boys were, Peter and me. So, we stood up, proud of our giving. He thanked all of us for being so generous with our Lenten gifts, but then he challenged us both. “What will you do for the missions when you grow up?” he asked. “Would you consider being a missionary?” At that moment in time being a little ‘Robin Hood’ was about my limit. The thought of leaving home and family and going so far away was a bit too much for both of us.
Supporting the Missions is deeply ingrained in our lives, partly because we all knew a Fr Nicky, or a religious sister, who made that sacrifice and gave their life in service. Trocaire has also put a box for Lent into all our hands and deepened our understanding of what development means. Many people from places that were once mission territory now live among us and contribute so much to our lives here. These include priests who come to Ireland to study and share their charisms. I understand Fr Nicky better now, his positivity and joy was a reflection of the people he ministered too, their deep faith and love of life. We can all support the Missions this weekend, and remember all our missionaries.