Fr Tom Looney Mission to Peru

Cork and Ross Mission to Peru

Homily at 50th Anniversary Mass – May 20th 2015

About a dozen of us Padres and Sisters of the Bon Secours and Mercy Orders were blessed to make the  25,000 kilometre round trip to mark what our Peruvian friends titled “Bodas de Oro – Misión Irlandesa” or the Irish Mission’s Golden Jubilee. Their everywhere poster shows two hands clasped and sporting the Peru and Irish tricolours against the striking background of the Cerro Cabra desert hill and in the very centre a Celtic Cross. Engraved in stone on that 10 metre high Cross is the name of every single Irish missionary volunteer to Trujillo – all 116 of us, together with the Archbishops and Bishops involved since 1965. The local Council chose the site and named it El Parque Misión Irlandesa as Pat Fogarty and Seán O’Sullivan completed their stay some years back. That Celtic Cross facing the Pacific and with its back to the foothills of the Andes was created in homage to the founding and ongoing work of the Cork and Ross Mission to Peru.

Their Celtic Cross and our Eucharist here in Rochestown unite as a buíochas mór le Dia na Glóire for three distinct groupings

  1. Those of us who were sent, all 116 of us.
  2. Those who received us and,
  3. All of you who for half a century kept us at the coalface of Mission by your prayers, your donations and your goodwill.

I was only home a month back in the early 80’s when I went to visit the Killorglin Leaving Certs about their School Retreat. Coming out I met Billy Crean, the chaplain, who introduced me to a First Year saying “this is Fr. Tom Looney just home from the Missions – now, next Sunday is Mission Sunday, what does that mean?” “I suppose another collection, Father!”


“Your old men shall see visions

And your young folk shall dream dreams”


During the 50’s and 60’s three old men had visions

Pope Pius XII writing “Fidei Donum” or his gift of Faith letter calling Dioceses to send missionaries.

Bishop Lucey of this Diocese agreed and showed cause as he linked up with Boston’s St. James’ Society.

Fr. Tom Duggan, the veteran chaplain of two World Wars volunteered but died in Lima soon after arriving in 1961. At the burial of Archdeacon Duggan and the prompting of Cardinal Cushing, Bishop Lucey took the brave and daring decision to set up a Mission formally launched on Lá ‘le Pádraig 1965. Enter the dreamers of dreams heading Peruwards.

Cork has a great scripture scholar in John Newman. I well recall his beautiful insight into Christian mission. He takes the Sea of Galilee scene as Jesus walks along the shoreline. He observes two crews at work – some are casting their nets while others are mending them. There’s the work of mission ‘the casting’ and ‘mending’; the proclaiming of the word and the healing work of our Church.

The shanty towns of Peru’s third city became our destination and our host. Leonard O’Brien’s history tells us that Peru is “a place of harsh landscapes, political instability and poverty” and ‘twas all that certainly.

I attended a meeting when Kerry Diocese set up a Mission in Kenya in conjunction with Kiltegan. The Kiltegan boss spoke of the declining vocations of the Missionary Societies. One of our senior men, Fr. Mundie Stack, interjected to suggest how “every Parish is a Missionary Society” and I add ‘every family can be’ and this we celebrate here this evening.

I want to share with you this 59 page history of our Mission. In our recent visit I met the German priest who compiled it. His name is Fr. Reinaldo Nann. The title is “Sembrando Esperanza” Sowing Hope. He gives us a detailed account of the genesis and progress of our Mission due in no small measure to Padre Wenceslao Calderon’s appealing pitch. Fifty years ago we accepted pastoral responsibility for some 50,000 parishioners. Today, that population has swelled to 500,000 and the pastoral work goes on thanks to the Sisters and priests who remain. I must say how impressed I am with the enthusiasm and dedication of all those pastoral agents-the young Peruvian Padres, the Combonianos from Italy and Mexico who continue the task of casting and mending. Reinaldo Nann maps out the infrastructure laid down by the 61 Sisters and 55 Padres Los Misioneros Irlandeses – it reads as follows: 23 Churches, 16 schools with 5,700 pupils attending today, 5 medical posts and Maternity, 5 Convents and 4 Presbyteries with Pastoral Centres attached. It would take your breath away truly as all these are very well constructed and easy to maintain – built to last you might say.

He further lists the very broad variety of groups and parish organizations catering for all ages among that ½ a million folk. The ones that shone out for me during the huge March 15th City Centre parade were the Special Children of Santo Toribio School, the “Cristo Sol y Luz del Mundo” or rehabilitation of addicts group and also hearing about their tremendous Family Catechesis programmes which Cork Priests brought across the border to Ecuador where it is still going great guns. This may be of huge interest and import in our Irish Church before long, I make out.

Following Bishop Lucey’s appeal in 1965 the Mercy and Bon Secours and Presentation Orders responded magnificently, the former two establishing formation programmes for Peruvian women to acclaimed success. Cloyne and Kerry said “Adsum” also and the Kerry team came to 10 sisters and 6 priests in all. Leonard O’Brien’s “Children of the Sun” tells of “poverty and political instability”. All of us who served can give plenty of witness to both of those realities. Following Vatican II three Popes visited major Latin American Church Assemblies. Pope Paul VI came to Columbia for the Medellin meeting in 1968. St. Pope John Paul II visited Mexico in 1979 for the Puebla Conference. Pope Benedict XVI attended the Aparecida Conference in Brazil 8 years ago where a future Pope clearly emerged from that assembly as our spiritual leader, Pope Francis. The Holy Spirit was actively evident there. Macroom’s Noel Kerins gave me a present of the Aparecida document in the Columban Fathers’ Mission House in Lima in Mid March. Another Columban told me that our Pope’s Joy of the Gospel pastoral letteris fite fuaite or warp and woof of this same wonderful Final Aparecida Document.

These documents give a road map for Mission especially in Latin America. Indeed, there is much to challenge and support Mission at home too. There were times and actions when we did not get it all perfectly right. No doubt mistakes were made in teeth of “political instability” and sometimes the fearful leadership by Peru’s Hierarchy did not help. I’ll never forget that Bantry true blue the late Mick McCarthy’s straight response to an on duty militár in 1977 “What are you doing here, Padre?” “I’m waiting ‘til ye shoot another of my parishioners so I can look after him”. That was La Esperanza. The same was true of our team in Florence de Mora and El Povenir. Leonard and Reinaldo write about and I quote “The Mission in Crisis” and “Tiempos Dificiles” or hard times treating of the 60,000 deaths around the Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path terrorist campaign. It had a huge impact for the worse on our Mission when under Bishop Michael Murphy’s leadership two Parishes were handed back and four priests were assigned first to Chile later to Ecuador. That was December 1991. Earlier that summer, three priests from neighbouring Chimbote were assassinated by Sendero – Polish Franciscans Frs. Miguel and Zbigniew and Italian Padre Sandro – they will be beatified as modern martyrs in early December.On this week facing the Beatification of Oscar Romero we hail the courage of the true missionaries and the People of God they serve. Shortly before his assassination he preached in January 1980 “Love is our greatest weapon”. On the Radharc programme screened two nights ago he said “Love is the only force that transforms”.

Today is the Feast of Bernardine of Siena afearless preacher and reforming Friar who built up his ailing Order from 300 to 4,000 strong. One person can make a difference. Our own chosen Patron, the Salamanca professor of law called Toribio became Archbishop of Lima in colonial times and showed huge respect for the native peoples. A mighty Patron he was too.

6 months ago a great man in one of our Parishes in Trujillo passed away. Felipe was a carpenter and local leader in sports and politics. I’ll never forget how at one tough meeting he said “cada quien tiene q’echar su granito de arena” “Every one of us must pitch in our little grain of sand” “Granito de arena”. Tonight we give thanks to God for all the countless grains of sand pitched into our Mission from both sides of the high Andes over the past 50 years. As the work of Mission continues we are invited to keep up the good work – God’s work.

The Aparecido document says “To be a missionary is to announce Jesus Christ creatively and audaciously in those places where the Gospel has not been adequately proclaimed or received and particularly in forgotten, difficult societies and beyond our frontiers” (p268) Fr. Tom Duggan understood that too. His remains were transferred from Lima to the special shrine in the Buen Pastor church in Trujillo where he is revered.

In telling the following story I’m reminded how the late Bishop Lucey founded and remained a member of the Bee-keeping Society in Maynooth College. “Missionaries in the past came from the faith of a generous spiritual people. It’s the same today. Let me end with the story of a man picking an orchard of apples.” “His friend said: you must have done a lot of work to produce this crop. No, the man said; last spring while I was asleep my bees, my secret workers did the work, pollinating these plants. Each Christian is one of those bees in God’s fruitful orchard. That’s how both the home and world orchard will produce a great harvest for Christ, the only Lord of love, goodness and salvation forever and ever, Amen.