Paddy Dillane talks about an enlightening evening with Michael Kelly SJ.
It was a privilege to sit and listen to Michael Kelly SJ’s insightful description of life on the continent of Africa that he has called his home for the last fifty years. His focus on the joy and value of the lives of those that he works with, people who maintain dignity, friendliness, self-respect, a smiling face, peace in their hearts and an acceptance of and respect for death, was a positive view of a people which even in well-intentioned media can still be portrayed in a negative light.
Michael talked about the gruelling existence that some people have to endure as a result of poverty and AIDS. As a group we discussed the prosperity of our own country which, as Michael pointed out, at least has a health service that we can give out about. This is in stark contrast to the corruption and the lack of development which many African people experience. The continent also has further suffering to face in coming years as a result of global warming and irregularities in the once-predictable rainfall pattern which agriculture has relied on for generations.
Yet in the midst of apparent despair there is still hope. In Michael’s experience there is a flourishing community spirit where people are prepared to accept the helping hand of their fellow human. Is this something that we are losing in an individualistic, materialistic 21st century Ireland, where speed and efficiency sometimes seem to take priority over loving one’s neighbour? Is this the progress that people need?
As ever, those who are in vulnerable positions are open to exploitation. This is evident among banana and coffee growers in developing countries, where prices paid for produce are minimal, in accordance with the dogmas of capitalism and the supposed interests of the global economy. Many farmers are forced into accepting very low proceeds from multi-national companies. Michael asked us to remember this. Where possible, he said, try to purchase such goods through the fair trade system, which guarantees a better deal for the primary producer.
Thank you, Michael Kelly SJ, for the time and the company in Slí Eile on Sunday, April 22nd, and the best of luck with your work. God Bless.