Today, Google coughed up an interview with one of the most dedicated individuals doing Hispanic ministry in this country...and the hermano is from Northern Ireland! (via Peru). Fr. Gerard John Redden just celebrated his 50th anniversary in the priesthood this year and he continues to follow his vocation, serving a poor Hispanic community in the San Juan Diego Pastoral Center in Ft. Pierce, Florida.
By Joe Crankshaw (Contact)
Sunday, September 20, 2009
The road from Derry, Ireland led through England, France and the teeming barrios of Peru and Ecuador, to Fort Pierce for the Rev. Gerard John Redden. Now 76, he is the director of the Juan Diego Catholic Ministry Center on Delaware Avenue. Redden graduated from All Hallows Seminary in Dublin. He received degrees in theology and philosophy and was then ordained a priest. He celebrates his 50th year in the priesthood.
Q. When you graduated and were ordained, what did you do, where did you go?
A. When you enter seminary, you choose a diocese. I chose Scotland because my father was born in Scotland. My first parish was Perth. I was in Scotland for nine years.
Q. How did you end up in South America?
A. They needed priests for South America. I thought, why not? I was young and wanted to get into that kind of work. I really wanted to get into work with the poor, that was my main objective. I wanted to work in undeveloped countries and I went to Peru. I studied at the university there, then was placed in what is called the “Barriadas.” There were a couple of million people who came and just took over the land. Missionaries went in to work. I went to one of those groups and it made a huge change in my life.
Q. What was your reaction to all this?
A. I discovered the enormous history of Peru, the Incas and all that. You cannot be there long and not learn of it. But, I was also appalled by the poverty, the straw houses, the utter lack of sanitary sewers and so on. I was utterly appalled. But I lived there. My first parish was with two other priests and we had the care of 90,000 people. I specialized in groups. I studied the work of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian who began a radical work in the education field to make people aware of who they were and where they were. I wanted to make them understand that God wants more for you. I wanted to liberate them from the extreme, unbelievable poverty. The people were down from the mountains and their religion was part superstition. I went out of my way to make them understand the big Gringo was not there to do the job, they were.
Q. How many years were you there in South America?
A. Nine years, six in Peru and three in Ecuador. We didn’t work for mass conversions because you couldn’t handle them. What we tried to do was to educate some and let them lead the others. You have to accept the reality of what was there and work with that. Then I became interested in liberation theology. It is very difficult to avoid it. I became a disciple of Gustavo Gutierrez, a controversial theologian who lived in the slums of Lima. But I have to be honest, it is difficult to see a loving God in those kinds of situations. You wonder how He can see His creations treated in that fashion and exploited.
Q. How did the civil authorities react?
A. They didn’t like it. But I did not think I was doing anything wrong. I resented the poor being used as garbage. I thought working with the people was what the Gospel is all about.
Q. Why did you leave?
A. My mother died at the end of the 1970s and I went back to Scotland. I found it something different from South America. But I learned the church is not a building, we are the church. I learned they wanted a priest to work in Florida among the Latins in 1983. The Bishop let me come. Bishop Daley sent me to Indian River and St. Lucie counties.
Q. Where did you go, what did you see?
A. I found no priests who spoke Spanish. I was in Fellsmere. I said Mass in a field and the people started coming. Then I had a small hall. A Methodist minister came to me and offered the use of his church. That was an ecumenical moment. He never charged me. Then we built a church in Fellsmere in 1994.
Q. But we needed a center from which to work, and eventually we got this center in Fort Pierce. We minister to many Hispanics, offer social services through Catholic Charities, and provide educational and social programs.
Q. It sounds as if you have been successful in working for the poor?
A. Perhaps, but I worry because I have no priests coming behind me to take over and I am getting old.