Society Matters | Volume 28 No. 1 | Autumn 2018

7 Volume 28 No. 1 | Autumn 2018 Fr Kevin Cantwell SVD has launched a book of reminiscences of his time as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, in which he says the focus is not on him, but on the people of PNG, the missionaries who have served there, and the lay catechists and local church members. Fr Kevin, who turned 90 in October, was a missionary in PNG from 1976 to 2003, first on the Sepik River and then in the Highlands, having been transferred there at the age of 48, after 16 years of appointments in Australia, including terms as Provincial. Launching his book, Missionary, at a gathering of confreres, friends and fellow-missionaries from the PNG days, and in the presence of SVD Superior-General Fr Heinz Kuluke, Fr Kevin said it was not so much a continuous story but a collection of thoughts and experiences. “The focus is on the people of PNG,” he said. “I wanted to show the character of the people.” He said the book also had two other over-arching aims. “I would like to create more mission awareness, and perhaps somewhere along the line, it could be used as a vocational tool,” he said. “By showing some of the daily life of a missionary, it becomes more realistic and shows the missionary embedded in the daily life of PNG. And that life is a very interesting, challenging and spiritually fulfilling life. “I hope it also shows the missionary as being not so much a ‘Holy Joe’ but a worker in the vineyard.” Speaking at the launch, Fr Wim Valckx SVD, said the book came as a surprise to Fr Kevin’s confreres living at Marsfield. “We would often tell him to write down his remembrances in a book, but what we didn’t realise was that he was doing just that,” Fr Wim said. “This story is not just Kevin’s but a story about our missionary life. The book is full of insight. All these stories are little gems, often with something hilarious in them, without ever being disrespectful of the people.” In officially launching the book, Fr Heinz thanked Fr Kevin for writing it. “I’d like to thank you for this beautiful book,” he said. “It fills an important vacuum. We have many books about mission, but very few books of stories of the missionary life. “I’m sure it will inspire a love for missionaries worldwide.” New book on missionary life then back to Brisbane for seven years before receiving his current assignment to the Marsfield community in Sydney. “In all of those places, my experience with the people was amazing,” he says. “In Santa Teresa, I led a prayer group with the local indigenous women and I feel they really welcomed me into their hearts, so I didn’t feel like an outsider. “I also spent time with the kids. They would ask me to take my guitar and play and pray with them. I wrote an offertory song during this period and they used it to celebrate 25 years since Pope John Paul II visited Alice Springs. I was really touched by that.” In Brisbane, Br Martin’s ministry included caring for the SVD retired missionaries living there, the SVD house, and also the visitors who came from PNG, Europe and interstate. He was also very much part of the music ministry at St Cecilia’s Hamilton, was appointed to work with migrant organisations, and volunteered at Princess Alexandria Hospital, visiting the sick. Later, Br Martin was appointed as Pastoral Associate with the late Fr Gerard Mulholland SVD at St Cecilia’s. Following Brisbane, Br Martin was assigned to the Marsfield community in Sydney to care for the retired confreres and run the house, as well as share his music ministry. But, after some time, he became unsettled and sought a leave of absence. “I didn’t feel like I was doing enough for God or the Society,” he says. He spent his year of absence living in a rented room, and deepening his empathy with those who don’t have the safety net of a regular wage or a certain roof over their head. “I had prayed often for those who had no money or not enough to eat, and now I experienced it,” he says. “And I thank God for that experience. “God led me during that year out, and I felt great peace about coming back at the end. “Now, here in Marsfield, I spend my time simply as a confrere. I see my role as building up community with the confreres. I spend time with our seniors. For example, we have a confrere here who has suffered a stroke recently and I help him with his exercise. “I enjoy building up recreation among the seniors. I like to do simple things, like take them out to have a coffee.” Br Martin is also part of the St Anthony’s Parish Choir at Marsfield and leads an Indonesian bamboo instrument choir. “That’s the gift I have – music and singing,” he says. “And I like helping other people to bring out their gift of music and singing too. “Music is such a wonderful way to reach people.”

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