By Caroline O'DohertySenior Reporter
Charlie Bird saw many remarkable things in his 40 years in RTÉ but nothing could have prepared him for meeting the people who live in a graveyard.
Some 500 destitute families — around 2,000 adults and children — live among the dead in one of the largest cemeteries in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where they sleep on graves, shelter between tombstones, and cook on the surrounds.
Two Columban nuns, supported by the Columban Sisters in Ireland, run a feeding programme for the children there and a small drop-in centre where they can wash, play, and learn.
It is just one of the many projects run or supported by Irish missionary orders that Charlie visited for a short film he has made for World Missions Ireland (WMI) which, in a novel approach to the annual event, is asking all Catholic Churches to show the film on big screens during Mass on Mission Sunday on October 18.
“The trip was fascinating,” said Charlie. “Like many institutions in Ireland over the past few decades, the Catholic Church has had its difficulties, but none of that should take away from the excellent work of Irish missionaries. They are incredible people, doing incredible work.”
Among those he met were Fr Paul Glynn from Mallow, Co Cork, who works to build peace on the Philippino island of Mindanao, where decades of inter-ethnic fighting has cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced some 2m people.
He also travelled to South Korea to see the work of Sr Nora Wiseman, from Macroom, who runs a hospice for the poor, and he visited an Aids shelter and met clergy who are supporting the bereaved parents of last year’s ferry disaster, in which almost 300 secondary school students died, as they battle the authorities for an explanation of what happened.
Fr Shay Cullen, who is renowned for his work in rescuing children from the sex industry while facing down endless harassment from the authorities, also features.The encounter reminded Charlie of his first overseas assignment for RTÉ in the 1970s when he went to the Philippines to report on the framing of another famous missionary, Fr Niall O’Brien, for murder in an attempt to thwart his work helping poor farmers form co-ops to fight for fair prices.“The role of Irish missionaries is changing and adapting to what is happening in the world today, but for me, one thing that hasn’t changed is the commitment of missionary priests and nuns to be seen to stand with the people, wherever they are working,” Charlie said.
Mission Sunday collections are hugely important to WMI, which supports missionaries and mission projects in 80 countries.
National director Maurice Hogan said the film — which will also be available to schools and on parish websites — would help bring home the difference people’s contributions make.
“It is a fresh approach to allow Irish churchgoers see the hugely important work of our missionaries abroad and the difference they make to the lives of those they serve,” said Fr Hogan.
“Irish people do indeed have a long tradition of supporting missionaries abroad, for which we are very grateful, and we believe that our DVD will show them that their support is still very much needed and valued.”
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