Sr. Norah works on the Team at Dalgan Park Mission Institute. She writes about her ministry as a Sister of Mercy in this context.
At a time of economic greed, and a rampant materialism in our Western cultures, our courses emphasise our vocation as priests and religious to be counter-cultural. We seek to promote a holistic view of the person, and a spirituality which includes a recognition of the ways in which our religious world has been transformed. A disenchantment with the Church which we represent, alongside a growing irrelevance of mission challenges us to understand and explain our mission in fresh and compelling terms. In a climate which holds truth as a relative and wealth as the apex of achievement, and where there is consequently a weakening of moral and spiritual values, our work at the Institute here seeks to emphasise the opposite; that the Lord of history looks on the world today as Jesus looked upon the world of his day, with profound compassion and mercy. “At the sight of the crowds the heart of Jesus was moved with pity. They were lying prostrate from exhaustion, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mc. 9:36)
In practice we run two three-month courses, mostly for priest and religious. Those from indigenous congregations are financially helped to attend. The Institute of Our Lady of Mercy is, and has been, extremely generous in providing half-scholarships. (This year we were able to grant 5 such scholarships).
We have also established an MA in Ecology and Religion Programme on a part-time basis. Today mission includes a wide range of activities besides primary evangelisation, such as, dialogue with world religions and primal religions: dialogue with the “post-Christian” western world; ecology and the struggle for liberation from all kinds of oppression. New wine needs new skins! Our courses attempt to provide such skins which can hold the new wine. Just as Catherine, in her day, attempted and succeeded in dealing with the Dublin of her time, so here in the Mission Institute we are attempting to deal with rapid change and its consequences.
Margaret and Monica in East Ham have become increasingly involved facilitating some projects in Uganda. Initially we asked for sewing machines and computers from sisters in the Institute and we sent these five to Africa in 2004. Since then we have widened our net and now have links to parishes and recycling centres in the East End and have sent 35 computers and 25 sewing machines plus 200 pairs of Clarke's shoes (donated by the boss) and sacks of children's clothes and books, given to us by local people. Tools and electrical goods have also been shipped to provide the resourses for carpentry and light engineering work training for youngsters.
A women's group which exists to enable economic independence to the members who struggle with unmotivated unemployed husbands have built a shop and begun a catering enterprise solely on the resources they have gathered from our support. It is a humbling and happy experience to discover what these simple, courageous women are accomplishing with so little.
We have enabled three charities to be set up, one in the city of Kampala and two in rural areas. The men and women responsible for these are known to us personally and give us amazing accounts of their activities. Their gratitude is overwhelming and sometimes I feel a bit like my childhood memories collecting for the "black babies" especially when one of the project directors told me his new baby was named Monica!
At this time we are hoping to encourage more local people to sponsor a child or group, as the requests we receive are endless.
As with other countries, there are many Ugandan refugees and failed asylum seekers in London and we meet some of these in a Catholic community which gathers in Bethnal Green each month to celebrate Mass and solidarity.
So what begun with a few redundant Institute Machines has grown beyond measure. There are machines providing income and training, self respect and hope, to a large number of adults and children from Kampala in the south to Gulu in the north of that country which Winston Churchill called "The pearl of Africa".