To mark World Missions Sunday, Philippa Stockley interviews Mgr John Corcoran, National Director of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith.
ON A BALMY AUTUMN morning with a sunny haze last week, I walked along the grand, slightly faded houses of Eccleston Square near Victoria station, looking at the worn, gently convexed stoops, a little bit of which would have been carried away on the feet of Victorian
children, nannies, governesses, soldiers on leave in both World Wars, Suffragettes; all manner of people. The Square is famous now for its summer open day, when the miraculous central garden is open to the public who throng there in thousands to see the famous collection of Ceanothus, and other cultivated marvels. This morning however I was headed for No 23, HQ of the Pontifical Mission Societies, to talk to Mgr John Corcoran.
Mgr Corcoran is National Director of the Association for the Propogation of the Faith. (APF). There are many more marvels going on every day behind No 23's gentle portal, and many millions of people involved in its activities; of all the flowers in Eccleston Square, its blooms are the most prodigious and, scattered world-wide, most beautiful.
But you wouldn't get Mgr Corcoran waxing lyrical like this. Made to feel at home in his pleasant office, watching him dart about to lay his hand unerringly on the facts and figures I requested, he is a man of action and enormous charm, responsible in Britian for promoting missionary activity worldwide., coordinating the dissemination of information about the APF and the collection of funds in order that evangelisation may go on, and grow.
In his message for this Mission Sunday, Pope John Paul says: "The Church knows she exists in order to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This demands total commitment of all Christians." Raising awareness of this, in every Catholic, is in Mgr Corcoran's capable hands, and the figures are impressive.
Over the last decade, the mission Church has grown as follows: dioceses increased II per cent, the number of priests by 6 per cent (this figure has been recently decreased by the murder of priests in certain countries,
particularly, recently, Rwanda), major seminaries increased 34 per cent, major seminarians by a staggering 81 per cent and catechists, 35 per cent.
The APF had humble beginnings. It was established by a French mill worker, Pauline Jaricot, who had the unique, broad vision of funding missionaries irrespective of their nationality. (In other words, opening the way to debunking the sole tradition of sending "white fathers" to convert "the natives"). It grew rapidly and was already established in England before Catholic Emancipation, but was officially here in 1833; the APF was granted pontifical status in 1922, with a central office in Rome. It is now in over 157 countries, whose national directors meet annually in May to determine worldwide allocation of funds. Each country has one vote,
whatever its relative financial status.
1995 is particularly special as it is the centenary of Mill Hill Missionaries reaching East Africa after gruelling and dangerous treks overland. But the image of the modern missionary is nothing like as simple as one childhood image of a "White Father" in a topee and tropical suit. In 1975, Mgr Corcoran was sent as a young fede domum priest to Kisumu, Kenya, East Africa. He found himself in an established parish of two priests and about 215,000 Catholics with, each year, one or to hundred converts. The first thing he had to do on arrival was learn Luo which is the major language of that area, running also into neighbouring Uganda. The mission had a hospital and a nurses' training school. Handicapped children were cared for and particular attention paid to the education of girls. Mgr Corcoran told me that the mission covered about 100 square miles and, although I had a romantic notion of him pedalling about on an old sit up and beg bicycle, he gave me a look and said he used a car. Many Kenyans walked the long journey to the
mission church from the outstations on a Saturday night, and slept there, to be fresh for Mass in the morning.
Although now based in London, Mgr Corcoran still travels widely and the APF receives countless letters of thanks from missions throughout the world for the money the APF sends them, with which they are able to build churches, seminaries, train local people as priests, catechists, and lay workers, and carry out the work of evangelisation.
Reading through the quarterly APF magazine, Mission Today, there are incredible, well illustrated stories of communities growing in the Church, of new churches being built. In Mundkur, Mangalore, for example, the local people built a very pretty church with the help of a £17,00 grant from the APF. In Britain one would be hard pushed to put up much more than a garden shed with that. While in Aurangebad, India, £8,000 helped to pay 60 catechists. And in the Ngong diocese, Kenya, there are now 44 priests (against 24 a decade ago), as well as sisters, brothers, catechists, students, hospitals and schools.
All these missions need a sustained supply of money to continue and expand the work they do. And in the case of the training of indigenous priests, the need is even more pressing. When a young man from Africa or Asia enters a seminary, his proud family lose a muchneeded bread-winner, and in communities where the economy is often already strained to breaking point, this can mean real hardship.
Yet the APF is a registered charity, relying solely on contributions. These come from the red boxes, from legacies and covenants, of course, from the Mission Sunday Collection. And the APF achieves all it does without, for example, Sir Bob Geldof appealing to us on our televisions; however, the APF has the most powerful endorsement of all: it is worth recalling the three aims of the AOF, as stated by the Pope.
To promote prayer and sacrifice for mission; To raise financial support for missions; To advance vocations to missionary life; clerical, lay and religious.
Catholics in Britain are already generous; in 1994,
APF-Mill Hill raised near £2.4 million pounds. Of thi only 3.3 per cent goes c administration. It is good • think that for every pour we put in the collection th Sunday, almost 97 pence w be sent on mission.This is t incredibly good return ft anybody's money and mak, the APF without doubt or of the most cost-effectit charities in the world. B1 more money is needed, ar we need to think whether v can give a little bit more. Ps a while we know we cam all get up and go and be missionary (and after reas ing the magazine you sta to see what a rewarding cal ing this would be), eac person can help the missic and be directly involved i it, through prayer an through donation: that nit bottle of wine we were thinl ing of buying for Sundt lunch maybe there is better way of spending tt money, and one which wi bring a more long-lastie sense of fulfilment?
Association for the Props gation of the Faith (APF) Eccleston Square, Lando SW! 1NU. The text of tF Pope's message for Mis.sio Sunday is available from t.1 APE