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Distance and Desire: From Mission to New Evangelization


I’m wondering if you’ve seen Brian Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa (or if not the play, at least, the film)? In it, we meet the missionary priest, Fr. Jack, home from Uganda, where he had worked in a leper colony for twenty-five years, and only having a break for about six months during World War I, when he served as chaplain to the British Army in East Africa. Now he returns to Ireland after all this time, as it turns out to die (he is ill with malaria). But it becomes very clear, very quickly, that Fr. Jack has been profoundly changed by his experience of living, and working, and ministering, in Africa. Even his faith had taken on dimensions that were now very strange to his family in Bailebeg in Donegal. When we meet Fr. Jack early in the play, he asks Kate, his niece: ‘Do you think perhaps Mother didn’t believe in the ancestral spirits?’ To which he got a response from Kate with all the clarity and precision of the schoolteacher that she was in 1930’s Ireland: ‘Ancestral –! What are you blathering about, Jack? Mother was a saintly woman who knew she was going straight to heaven. And don’t you forget to take your medicine again this evening.

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