TOKYO — Holy Name missionary Donnon Murray, OFM, reports that the ministry is going well from the Franciscan Chapel Center here in Minato-ku, where he is expanding the Families, Intercommunication, Relationships, Experiences, Services program, or FIRES for short, around the world.
Donnon wrote an annual Christmas e-mail greeting to thank friars for their prayers and to provide an update about FIRES, a program started by Fr. Gabriel Calvo that fosters loving relationships with self, family, others and God.
FIRES Expands Around the World
Donnon, who has been working with Marriage Encounter-type programs for almost 40 years, has been able to expand FIRES throughout Japan, as well as to Venezuela, Hungary and Slovakia this year. In the past, FIRES has been brought to Thailand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and Kenya, Africa.
More than 1,000 people have attended FIRES programs in the past year, said Donnon. They are credited with saving hundreds of marriages, reconciling families, and bringing thousands of people to God. The programs are even credited with several vocations to clerical and religious life, according to Donnon.
He writes: “I am always pleased and encouraged when people tell me that they are praying for me and for the FIRES programs. That becomes obvious in the course of a year, when I am advised of the graces that people share with me for which there can be no other explanation than prayers. As I have repeated over and over again, the reason for this yearly Christmas letter to you is to remind you to continue your prayers, because they do, in fact, result in marvelous graces.”
Donnan said 2009 was especially grace-filled. “Eucharistic Encounter,” the newest FIRES program, has been well-received, according to Donnon. In Venezuela, the program drew 60 participants when it was offered in June.
“Some participants had to travel eight to 10 hours by bus,” he said. “We had the material translated into Spanish beforehand.”
Slovakia, where the materials had to be translated, also had more than 60 participants.
After the program in Slovakia, Donnon said he drove to Hungary for an all-European Conference of the Christian Family Movement, the first to be held in Hungary. With more than 550 participants, many graduates of a FIRES program, it was one of the largest gatherings that Donnon said he ever attended.
Held at a famous monastery, Donnon said, “This kind of gathering of faith-filled, youthful and joyful Catholics is not something you see very often in this day and age, and it was a wonderful witness of what the Church could be.” The most beautiful thing about it was the youthfulness of the participants, with the average age being perhaps 32.”
Bringing People Together, To God
Donnon’s travels this year also took him to the United States, where he attended a priest encounter in Washington, D.C., and to Toronto, Canada, where he appeared twice on a radio program.
“Since coming back to Japan in August, I have been either directly or indirectly invited to go to Norway, Dubai, and Australia, to introduce FIRES programs, and to India to attend the tri-yearly International Conference of Christian Family Movements,” he writes. “No definite decision has been made on any of these yet, but none of them have been something I have directly sought after, but I believe are rather the result of prayers working in unexpected ways.”
Donnon, a native of Oliphant, Pa., said he has witnessed many unchurched people — “in the thousands” — receive baptism and become exemplary Christians. “These are the kind of graces that make my vocation meaningful.”
He has been working with Marriage Encounter for 37 years, 35 in collaboration with Fr. Calvo who founded the program in 1961. Donnon has lived in Japan since 1958, when he “came over by freighter, in the days before non-stop jets,” he said. He has been working out of the Chapel Center for 23 years.
Fr. Calvo belongs to an institute called Diocesan Labor Priests, founded in Spain about 100 years ago, said Donnon, adding, “there are only about 300 members of the institute. The term labor does not mean that they work in factories. Rather, it refers to the Gospel passage that harvest is great but the laborers are few. Their charism is to help people discern their vocation.” The headquarters of the Diocesan Labor Priests is in Washington, D.C, near the Franciscan Monastery garden.
Donnon requests that friars continue to pray for him and the success of FIRES and wishes everyone “a very merry Christmas and a New Year filled with God’s blessings.”
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.