Recently, I enjoyed the enormous privilege, visiting Asia, for the first time. It was a wonderful and unique experience, to engage in a very different culture and tradition. My initial flight was to Dubai and then on to Saigon, Vietnam. The flight from Dublin to Dubai was predominantly filled by young Irish people, emigrating for the first time, or returning to Australia, after a visit home to Ireland. While their mood was upbeat and hopeful, I felt a sense of loss for our own Country. Talented, educated teachers, nurses, carpenters… All leaving because of a common mantra… “Ireland has become too expensive””. The cost of rental accommodation and general living, leaves little space for saving and achieving what so many young professional adults desire, their own home.
In Saigon, I met a marvellous group of young Irish teachers who gained employment in an international school. I was taken by their confidence, adaptability and how this small lrish community in a city of 12 million people can support and celebrate their identity including a growing and vibrant Saigon GAA Gael’s club.
I was truly humbled and inspired by the gentleness and kindness, I experienced, while spending time in Cambodia. A country so bruised by violence and death of 3 million people in recent history. Cambodia, is predominantly a Buddhist country, with just a tiny Christian minority. I was taken by the local Catholic Church in the city of Siam Reap. The only one in a city of 1.5 million people. The Church had no pews. Those who gathered sat on the ground and worshipped with great sincerity and rich faith.
The average wage in Cambodia is 200 dollars a month, there is no social welfare, healthcare and education are often the reserve for the wealthy. I kept thinking with all of the challenges why are these people so happy, engaging and at peace.
On a boiling hot Saturday afternoon, I took shelter in a local park, where many of the locals make a picnic during the weekend. I observed how the entire family sat, laughed, spoke and listened to one another. The elderly are particularly respected and I included at all such family gatherings. A kind man, tapped my shoulder and with the gentle gesture of welcome, offered me some of what his family were eating. Me a foreign redhead, invited to be part of his hospitality and welcome. A Buddhist practicing charity and reminding me a Christian… How do I welcome the stranger? how do I greet the foreigner
Wi-Fi connected me to home. The absolute joy and pride that Abbeyleix has been awarded Irelands tidiest town. Like all the communities I have the privilege of serving I have had time to process how privileged I am to live and feel so much part of the life and energy that defines a community who cares, takes time to listen and celebrate the rich blessing and sense of belonging. As I write this article I’m very conscious that for the first time in 74 yrs. Abbeyleix are about to play in the senior county final, not to mention that the minors reached the final also. Congratulation to Shanahoe ladies winning intermediate county final, the recent Ryder Cup and World Cup Rugby, makes us feel we belong, we are part of a team. Sport brings us together. This is the heart of what community,parish is all about. Together we are stronger.
Outside the parish church in Siam Reap Cambodia, was a beautiful statue of the Lord washing the feet of the stranger. The kind Buddhist, who welcomed me a stranger, exemplifies this gesture. Let’s get busy washing feet!!!
Rivers do not drink their own water, trees do not eat their own fruit, the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves. Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other. No matter how difficult it is……. Life is good when you are happy, but much better when others are happy, because of you….