- “Research into the success of Catholic schools in the USA indicated that a key element in their work was the existence of an inspirational ideology” – Bishop McKeown
Matthew 25:31 – 40
Trócaire was established in 1973 by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference as a way for Irish people to donate to development and emergency relief abroad. In that brief, Trócaire was given a dual mandate: to support the most vulnerable people in the developing world, while also raising awareness of development at home. Tonight we remember innumerable people who, through their generosity and enthusiasm, have made it possible for Trócaire to make a difference in so many distressed areas around the world.
On a night like this we have the opportunity, not just to acknowledge the passion of many for the work of Trócaire but also to reflect more deeply on why the organisation was set up and what it is trying to do forty-one years after its inception.
Maybe there is a hint in the title. “Trócaire” is the Irish language word for “mercy”. We often pray A Thiarna, déan trócaire. But that mercy is not merely something for which we grovel before God. God’s mercy flows from a heart that so loved – and loves – the world that He sent His only Son (Jn3:16). God is love, mercy and compassion for us in our weakness. And that is the compassion that Christ’s followers are asked to have for those who are in need.
Trócaire is thus not just one more development organisation, gathering money and sending it to poorer areas of the world. Trócaire is born of the mission of the Church to evangelise – because without that social dimension of the Gospel, Pope Francis tells us in his Apostolic Exhortation of last November Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) that “there is a constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelisation” (EG 176). Pope Francis also quotes Pope Benedict XVI in this regard: “the service of charity is also a constituent element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being” (EG 179). Our actions and attitudes are meant to be a reflection of divine compassion for, and our solidarity with, those in need. They are born of the belief that Jesus is to be found in the least of His brothers and sisters. It is where our nice words are tested against our dealings with the realities of our world. That is where we hear the foolishness of God that is wiser than human wisdom. (1 Cor 1:25)
Just as God’s generosity on behalf of the world was shocking for many people, so the call to the Church is to be generous beyond common sense. Pope Francis is blunt. “The Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God… The Gospel is about the kingdom of God; it is about a loving God who reigns in the world.” (EG 180). Trócaire was not born merely out a desire to give money to the poor, nor was it just a fruit of liberation theology or a Catholic urge to be in the community of the world’s innumerable development agencies. Just as earlier generations of Irish had shown huge generosity in their support of the development work that was done by Irish missionaries, so the Gospel calls on the modern generation to have “a deep desire to change the world… to leave the world somehow better than we found it” (EG 183). The people we remember tonight are the ones who did not forget the uncomfortable social dimension to Christian conversion.
Pope Francis has been quite clear that Christian charity does not just involve having pity on the needy millions who are victims of famine, natural disaster or war. The Holy Father refers to fundamental problems that affect the lives of millions and which often contribute to the effects of war and disasters. These are problems to which people of faith must say ‘no’ – the economy of exclusion, the new idolatry of money, a financial system that rules rather than serves and an inequality that spawns violence(EG 53-60). This is not some trendy left wing political agenda. The Church must seek to speak out against whatever damages human dignity. The prophets of the Old Testament did not offer political solutions – but they did speak loudly about injustice and political self-interest among the strong. The missionary Church in all its forms has to maintain that prophetic voice if it wishes to avoid playing the tacit political role of justifying the current injustices just by its silence. Trócaire plays a major role in helping us reflect on the systems failures in our world. And that will not always be a welcome voice among those of us who do well from our current systems.
I appreciate that Trócaire gathers major amounts of money from generous people, especially during periods of Advent and Lent – and that it is also used as a very effective channel for the delivery of development and disaster relief money from the Irish State, from the European Union and from other international sources. Only the funds that it obtains directly can be used directly for projects and purposes that Trócaire chooses. The other monies are driven by the donor organisations. But when it comes to spending its own unrestricted funds, Trócaire has to be clear, firstly, that its motivation is the spread of the Kingdom of God through the building up of human solidarity and of a more just world, and, secondly, that it is not embarrassed to repeat the Gospel call to giving from generous hearts and not just from deep pockets. Otherwise it could go the way of many Church-founded organisations that have essentially become secularised in their work and ethos while retaining the historical link to church communities and to their huge generosity. It would be a tragedy if such bodies lost their dream of building God’s Kingdom and yearned only to do well in the development organisation popularity poll. That would be a betrayal of the many supporters, whose generosity was motivated by the compassion of God and not merely by brand loyalty. These were people who were driven by the scriptural dream of a new heavens and new earth and not just by slick marketing.
I know that Trócaire is very committed to this way of being a development agenda. In some ways there is actually a greater need for their educational outreach. If we are to be a missionary Church, seeking to get out a message that so many of our contemporaries have never heard, then Trócaire has a wonderful range of inspiring Church documents as well as a band of dedicated staff and supporters who both know that message and seek to live by it. Research into the success of Catholic schools in the USA some twenty years ago indicated that a key element in their work was the existence of an inspirational ideology. The Scriptures offer us an inspirational way of looking at God and looking at us as people. They offer an invitation to believe in a God who believes in people. Just as God in Jesus was Emmanuel, God with us, so the Christian call to charitable giving is an invitation to stand with the needy – and not just to do things for them. Faith involves solidarity and not just generosity. And the Christian’s work for justice has to born of love and not just natural idealism. God wants our hearts and not just our wallets. That is where the real call to conversion comes in.
Tonight we give thanks for the fire that burnt in the bellies of those who founded Trócaire and those who have kept it vibrant since 1973. We commend them to the mercy, the trócaire of God. We ask that the Spirit of God will keep that light burning brightly so that we never lose our saltiness in the service of God and of His saving mission. And we pray that our human generosity, seasoned with the crazy generosity of God, can be used to build what will be referred to on the feast of Christ the King, as “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace”.
- Bishop Donal McKeown is Bishop of Derry
(i) Cf EG 188 – eliminate the structural causes of poverty
(ii) A.S. Bryk, V.E Lee and P.B. Holland, The Catholic School and the Common Good, 1993 London, Harvard University Press, pp. 301-4. A brief summary of the arguments in the book is available at http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/931014/bryk.shtml
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678