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Mission Trip Opportunities Expand Through the FMU

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Student friar John Aherne with children in Kenya

As the Province’s secretary for missionary evangelization prepares for his next mission trip, he is assessing the results of recent travels and looking ahead to a future of varied and valuable opportunities for both friars and their partners-in-ministry.

Paul O’Keeffe, OFM, completed a mission trip to South Africa in May and is leaving this week for Cuba. As part of his role with the Province’s Franciscan Missionary Union, he is developing programs that “give people an experience of mission that will empower them to follow the call from Vatican II to live mission in our daily lives, where we live, work and worship.”

While he was in Africa this spring, Paul gave an orientation to three friars who were beginning their summer assignments and he guided a group of 13 on a nearly two-week experience of service and education — the fifth mission trip to South Africa with students that he has completed.

This program is proving to be valuable to all types of participants — friars and laypeople.

Goals of Service and Learning
Participants in the spring trip included three students from St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, four students and a chaperone from the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., and five adults who worship at St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, whose ages ranged from 63 to 73.

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Dennis Bennett teaching a class in Kenya.

As the Province’s moderator of missions and evangelization, Paul said, “Our new focus is to create mission experiences for students and other interested adults. Currently, we have three international and two domestic trips running this year and in 2016.”

During the May 17 to 30 trip, he visited three areas of South Africa — Soweto, Zululand, and the Northwest Province.

“The goal of our mission was to learn how the apartheid system of government created a fractured society, and how the Catholic Church and other grass-roots organizations have helped create peace and right the injustices of apartheid,” said Paul. “We also worked in several orphanages and with people living with HIV/AIDS.”

Paul said he was successful in resurrecting the summer mission experiences for student friars. “Before I left South Africa, I gave an orientation to George Camacho, OFM, who is spending six weeks there. Then I went to Nairobi, Kenya, to give a weeklong orientation for John Aherne, OFM, and Dennis Bennett, OFM.

Paul, who is stationed in Boston, said the goal of the summer mission experiences for student friars is “to give friars in formation an experience of mission as spelled out in the formation plan for all friars put forth by the Curia in Rome. It’s also a chance to give student friars a taste of mission, and a practical experience of ministry with the poorest of the poor in a developing country.”

While in South Africa, George is working at St. Francis Care Centre, a hospice for persons with HIV/AIDS, as well as St. Anthony Training Centre, a trade school for poor South Africans. He is being hosted by the Order’s South Africa province. Dennis and John are working with Fr. Miroslav Babic, OFM, a Croatian friar from the East Africa province.

“John and Dennis are at the rural mission of Subukia, approximately seven hours drive from the capital of Nairobi,” said Paul. “This mission was founded by Holy Name alumnus Joseph Ehrhardt, OFM, who now serves in Japan. It is also the resting place of the late Roy Corrigan, OFM, and Conrad Shomsky, OFM, Holy Name Province friars who died at the mission.”

Opportunities for All in Many Locations
Paul will be running seven trips next year, he said, and welcomes interested participants to consider joining the adventure. The trips that will be running in 2016 include three South Africa trips, two Turkey pilgrimages and two Cuba trips.

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The group that recently went to South Africa with Paul O’Keeffe

“Having lived in Africa for nearly six years and having visited South Africa and Kenya multiple times, I never tire of witnessing the hope and faith of the people, in areas where there is no hope and where the best of us might lose faith,” said Paul, who professed his final vows as a Franciscan in 2010.

The trips to Turkey are designed for participants who want a better understanding of Islam and would like to learn more about early Christianity, which has its roots in Eastern Turkey. “Our mission is to gain an understanding and appreciation of Islam as a religion of peace as opposed to the predominant portrayal of radical Muslims in the media, who paint a one-sided picture of Islam,” said Paul. Also in the works, he said, are short-term mission trips to Boston, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington D.C. “These trips are designed to give participants a taste of poverty in America and to see what local organizations, both Catholic and non-Catholic, are doing to help the poor.”

Information about the trips will be provided on the Franciscan Missionary Union’s website, which will be launched later this summer, Paul said. A stronger social media presence is also being developed. “Our new Facebook presence will hopefully get the word out to the younger crowd about the mission trips that we are hosting,” said Paul, who departs for Cuba on July 24. “The main content will be pictures from mission trips that I lead and stories from participants who have been on trips.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.