Speaking in Belfast on 5 September at an event to celebrate the fiftieth year of the work of Trócaire – the Irish branch of Caritas established by the Bishops of Ireland – and that today works in partnership with communities in sixteen countries to relieve poverty and tackle injustice, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, said,
“In February 1973, when the Irish bishops issued their pastoral letter establishing Trócaire, I was only a young boy in primary seven at Saint Patrick’s Pennyburn in Derry. Over the past 50 years, Trócaire has established itself an essential arm of our Church’s life, witness, mission and hope.
“I have always associated Trócaire with the call to be a follower of Jesus Christ, who called his disciples to love one another, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick and for anyone who is suffering or in need.
“Over the past 50 years, I’ve learned that Trócaire is not simply a fund, but is a family of carers – at home and abroad – who are the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet, the heart of the people of Ireland. The Trócaire family reaches out in love and generosity towards our brothers and sisters who struggle to cope: to those who go to bed hungry at night; to children and grown adults who cannot read or write; to whole communities displaced from their homes by war and violence or environmental destruction; to our fellow human beings who cannot find clean water to drink, or a safe shelter for themselves and their children.”
The Primate of All Ireland continued, “At a deeper level, Trócaire has also introduced and explored for us over the years the underlying reasons for much of the poverty and the root causes of discrimination, exploitation and injustice. I think I saw my first Trócaire box when I was at St Columb’s College in the mid-seventies. The catchy messages and moving photos on those boxes each year opened my eyes to Trócaire’s work in highlighting and alleviating injustices. I learned that it is our Christian duty to stand up for the rights of those around the world who are being marginalised and disadvantaged. I can still see the image one of the very earliest Trócaire boxes – a young child, with a sad face, gazing out at me with the striking message: ‘It’s my world too’.
“As an adult I’ve come to appreciate Trócaire’s ethos which is very much in line with the social teaching of the Catholic Church. Perhaps more than any other agency or instrument within the Catholic Church in Ireland, Trócaire has helped to expose the reality of violence towards the vulnerable; the plight of women and children around the world who are used and abused as weapons of war; the disproportionate impact of climate change and environmental destruction on the world’s poorest and most defenceless peoples; the exploitation of natural resources, the land grabbing, the discrimination, threats, and intimidation, the trafficking manipulation and exclusion of those whom Jesus once described as “the least of our brothers and sisters”.
“Trócaire’s approach over fifty years has been not only to provide much needed resources and humanitarian help to those areas of greatest need, but also to educate and raise awareness of the reasons behind that need, and to empower those on the ground to change the reality of their situation for the better.
“Here in Belfast this evening I borrow some words from the late Brian McKeown – a Belfast man and an alumnus of this university at Queen’s – who helped to inspire the foundation of “Trócaire in 1973 and became its first Director. Brian once said: “you can put up the image of a starving child which will evoke sentiments of pity and fill collection boxes, without telling the people why the child is starving, without attacking the causes of the problem.” Brian convinced the Irish bishops that it was vital to channel funds directly to people on the ground around the world who understood their local context and who knew best how to use those funds strategically in order to change lives for the better in the longer term.
“The principles of justice and social action have remained of the core of Trócaire’s approach for half a century now: always challenging our thinking and our approaches to tackling the problems and root causes of poverty, injustice and inequality in the world. Trócaire is therefore at once about generosity and charity; about picking people up when they are hungry and suffering and restoring their dignity; and, about giving them agency to engage in social transformation within their own local context.
“I saw this for myself in January 2020, just before Covid, when I travelled to visit the Trócaire team in Nicaragua. I saw the work they were doing with communities and especially with women, instilling in them the skills, confidence and the wherewithal they needed to make a real difference for themselves, their families and their future. Sadly, like many other organisations, Trócaire has since had to leave Nicaragua: it is heartbreaking and troubling that in too many countries around the world – from Myanmar to Ethiopia, from DRC to Zimbabwe and Nicaragua – the work of justice and protection of human rights and dignity is seen as a threat by the powers that be.
“But still there are prophets and saintly people who join Trócaire to keep the flame of hope alive: people like Sally O’Neill from Dungannon in County Tyrone who dedicated her life to working with Trócaire in caring for marginalised people. For almost forty of Trócaire’s fifty years, Sally was a witness to faith, hope and love in Latin America, Ethiopia, Somalia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Sally was an outstanding ambassador for Christian charity and human rights in caring for refugees, providing essential humanitarian aid, while at the same time highlighting for politicians at home and abroad the Truth that, in reality, suffering and injustice are often two sides of the same coin.
“Brian and Sally, and many others from these parts and from all over Ireland have supported Trócaire’s mission on the front line, buoyed up by the support, encouragement and prayers of thousands of others: from young primary school children to parents and family members who shake their Trócaire box at home or who pledge direct debits and standing orders every Lent to Trócaire. We also salute the example and support of teachers, priests and religious, staff, leaders, and many partners of Trócaire who collaborate in this amazing work of mercy.
“I thank God for Trócaire’s work over 50 years in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and the work of justice which all go hand in hand. And I recognise the links which Trócaire, founded as a Catholic agency for world development, has made with people of all faiths and none, with the governments in Ireland, the UK and the EU, to ensure that the task continues of tackling poverty, malnutrition, injustice, as well as highlighting their underlying causes.
“The work of Trócaire is the work of Mercy; it is the work of God.”
Archbishop Martin concluded, “As we have done since the day of Trócaire’s foundation, we pray to the All-merciful God:
to grant us a share in his mercy; to keep our hearts always open to those who are in hunger and in need; to never let us grow accustomed to the injustice and inequality that exists in the world or grow weary in the work of setting it right. Amen.”