Beliefnet
The Deacon's Bench

The world has lost a remarkable and spirited warrior in the fight for charity and justice — and attention must be paid

The Rev. Aengus Finucane, a Roman Catholic missionary and Irish aid
pioneer who braved civil wars and learned he must “fight like hell to
do any good,” died Tuesday, his charity announced. He was 77.
 

“There
can be few Irish people of his generation, or of any other generation,
who have contributed as much to improving the lives of so much of
humanity,” said Tom Arnold, chief executive of the Concern charity that
Finucane spent decades promoting.

Irish Prime Minister Brian
Cowen called the priest “a selfless and brave man who traveled to many
of the world’s most dangerous places to help the poor. … His
courageous efforts saved a huge number of lives.”

“His memory
will live on in the lives of those he saved,” added Billy Timmins,
foreign affairs spokesman for the major opposition party, Fine Gael.

Finucane
was a priest in the Spiritan Fathers order in Nigeria during its
1967-1970 civil war with the breakaway state of Biafra. Determined to
combat famine as the Nigerian military crushed the rebellion, he worked
with Dublin-based workers to channel aid to Biafra through its
often-bombed airstrip and by cargo ship.

Finucane later recalled
how the Nigerian air force bombed the airstrip every day, but his
parishioners “lined up in the forest with truckloads of gravel to fill
the holes in the runway.”

That aid effort, initially known as
Concern Africa, shortened its name to Concern in 1970 as it gained
ambitions to provide food, medical support and education in many of the
world’s poorest countries.

Finucane became Concern’s field
director in Bangladesh in 1972 following its war of independence from
Pakistan. Tours of duty in Thailand, the killing fields of Cambodia and
Idi Amin’s murderous Uganda followed.

He served as the charity’s
chief executive from 1981 to 1997, and since then as its honorary
president responsible for spearheading fund-raising in the United
States.

His credo, oft-repeated when stumping for donors, was:
“We have a strong inclination to do evil — and you have to fight like
hell to do any good.”

During Finucane’s time as chief executive,
Concern expanded aid work into 11 countries and dramatically increased
its fund-raising. Today the charity is one of Ireland’s biggest, with
operations in 18 countries in Africa and 10 in Asia, including
Afghanistan and North Korea.

“He used his great gifts of
personality and charismatic leadership to work for the things he
believed in. People loved to be with him and he loved to be with
people. He inspired a whole generation of Concern overseas volunteers,”
Arnold said.

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