Sunday, October 11, 2009

Goodbye to a legend and an old friend

Last week Aengus Finucane passed away. He was a Holy Ghost missionary priest who helped found what grew to become Ireland's internationally renowned charity, Concern Worldwide, back in the days of the Biafra famine in the failed secession war against Nigeria. We joined hundreds of friends and his family on Friday last to pay tribute to a great man who became a household face and name not just in Ireland but in the many countries where Concern had a presence.

Ironically for an organisation that was founded and headed by a priest for so many years it was the first Irish NGO to be avowedly non-denominational. It worked to benefit the poorest of the poor in all the various countries in which it worked and the beneficiaries and staff were of all religions and none. It never was a factor, nor should it be. Aengus was a larger than life figure, a genuine humanitarian and he made Concern strive to achieve its slogan of the 70s - Love in Action.

Concern has played a huge part in our family's life. I met my hubby Jan when we were both young volunteers with Concern in Bangladesh in the late 1970s and Concern and our paths have been inextricably intertwined ever since. Aengus was my boss when I went to Bangladesh where he was then Field Director, and after Bangladesh he bacame the Chief Executive of Concern in Dublin from 1981 - 1997.

After Bangladesh we got married and went to Tanzania with another NGO, the Swiss-based Lutheran World Federation, which was a familiar career path for former Concern volunteers, as many of them were now working in various LWF fields. After 6 years in Tanzania we took a break while Jan did a MSc in Development Economics in Swansea, and it was Aengus who interviewed him for his next post, as Country Director for Concern in Tanzania.

We spent 6 more fulfilling and happy years in Iringa and Dar-es-Salaam and then transferred to Lao PDR for another two and a half years with Concern . In all that time and subsequently we maintained links with Aengus through our ongoing involvement and interest in Concern and its activities. We are both members of Concern, Jan is on the Concern Council, and we have kept in touch with our many Concern friends over the years, both at home and abroad. Aengus baptised our youngest child 13 years ago during our home leave from Laos, and we have a lovely video of that day.

Last year Concern celebrated its 40th Anniversary with a huge reunion in Croke Park in Dublin, where hundreds of people from all corners of the world gathered to reminisce and remember the wonderful times they had in their time and involvement with Concern. While the organisation was at the forefront of so many tragedies and landmark events in the past 40 years, from the famine in Biafra to the misery of Darfur, and the Rwandan genocide among the most notorious, there are many moments to treasure, whether the impact was on one person or a whole community.

It is true what his brother Fr. Jack said when celebrating his funeral mass - that Aengus was part of three families - his own family, the Holy Ghost family, and the Concern family. His funeral was truly a celebration of his life and the many moving tributes on radio, TV and both the Irish and International press were a testament to that life fully lived.

May he rest in peace, in the knowledge that his impact on the lives of so many people will live on for many years and he will not be forgotten.


FoodFunFarmLife said...

What a great loss - he sounded like an amazing man .....

Niamh Griffin said...

Thanks for this post Catherine. It's really important to remember the man behind the story in cases like this, and amazing that he still had time for weddings and small details in the middle of creating such a great organisation. I actually hadn't known that Concern was founded by a 'man of the cloth' which is a testament like you said to how committed he was to people first and everything else second. He left a powerful legacy which I hope can survive the recession and aid cut-backs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this tribute Catherine.

Catherine said...

Thanks for the comments - I am glad that you liked the tribute to Aengus.
LYNDA - yes he was indeed an amazing man, as was borne out by the great tributes paid to him at his funeral and the numbers of friends who gathered to say goodbye to him, not to count the dignitaries who where there - representatives from the President of Ireland and the Taoiseach (Prime Minister). He visited Tanzania a number of times, and was there during the Rwandan genocide in our time there, and visited the border areas.

Catherine said...

NIAMH - a lot of people would indeed be surprised to hear how much involvement the clergy had with Concern over the decades. The fact that they were founded by missionaries from across the sectarian divide in Biafra is pretty telling though as there were Methodists and Anglican and Catholics involved at the outset who called on friends in Ireland to raise money to ship food into blockaded Biafra and to arrange the night airlifts. Those were pretty pioneering days and well ahead of most ecumenical movements. They stayed non-denominational and anti-evangelising over the years.
I hope the government will stop cutting aid as well - Concern alone has had to let a number of staff go, 19 in Dublin and over 1000 abroad, where there is no safety net of social welfare.
All the best, Catherine

Catherine said...

JANET - thanks for visiting and commenting on the blog, I think you are new to here. It wasn't difficult to write a tribute from the heart for Aengus as he was such a lovely man. That he was a priest was incidental, first and foremost he was a great humanitarian and people person.
I like your blog too, lovely knitting. I do some but not a lot, I have a knitting follower on my blog, Rudee. I will try to link you up. How do I follow yours? There seems to be only a RSS thingy but no list of followers like the one here.Wordpress is new to me unlike Blogger!
Good luck!
All the best, Catherine.