Melbourne Catholic Podcast: Kevin Meese, Catholic Mission

Tuesday 11 February 2020

Communications Office
Kevin Meese is the Diocesan Director of Catholic Mission, the international mission agency of the Australian Catholic Church. He’s the first layperson to hold the position of Diocesan Director of Catholic Mission, or the Pontifical Mission Society as it’s known internationally.
Kevin has been the Diocesan Director of Catholic Mission for ten years and has worked with Catholic Mission for over twenty. For those unfamiliar, what exactly does Catholic Mission do? ‘We have two strong arms of our work,’ Kevin says. ‘One is formation, the other is fundraising. We empower local churches to be vibrant communities.’
Despite frequent visits to projects funded by Catholic Mission in India, the Philippines, and PNG, much of Kevin’s international work has been in Myanmar, working alongside Cardinal Charles Maung Bo.
 Images: Kevin Meese, and Catholic Mission
By way of background, in 1962, Myanmar (Burma) experienced a military takeover. Education was nationalised and schools were confiscated from the Catholic Church. The government was replaced with a military dictatorship. Since then, the country has been mired in one of the world’s longest-running civil wars.
‘That was the end of an entire education system that enabled people to think critically,’ says Kevin. Kevin doesn’t see the role of Catholic Mission as deciding how to help, but rather to listen to local communities. ‘It’s important that we address a local need and not press on a community what we think is best for them.’
 Images: Kevin Meese, and Catholic Mission 
‘In Myanmar, the bishops clearly articulated that one of their primary means of evangelisation is through education. They also recognise that even though they want to be in that space, they don’t have the skillset to address that because of their history where the education system was dismantled by the government. It’s a need they’ve identified and it’s something we can help with.’
‘And yet it’s in a country where [Catholicism] is outlawed. You can’t actually teach religion in schools,’ he says.
In Myanmar, Catholics make up less than 3 per cent of the population, so it’s imperative that the work of Catholic Mission is not done with an attitude of proselytising, Kevin stresses. ‘The schools and boarding homes understand that instead, they need to be authentic witnesses to the gospel. And they understand that they do that in a largely Buddhist environment. It’s about respecting each other, engaging in dialogue and acknowledging that people pray in different ways.’
 Images: Kevin Meese, and Catholic Mission
As part of the formation element of Catholic Mission’s work, Kevin leads students on overseas trips and immersion programs to visit overseas projects. ‘We accompany young people who are on the cusp of making life-changing decisions about their future and career path.’
‘They want to learn more about the world and the issues that force people into poverty.’
‘You do recognise that it’ll be tough and shocking for them to witness issues around poverty up close and personal. And the rug is always pulled out from under their feet. But what comes out the other side is this tremendous admiration for people who are determined in the face of extreme challenges to look after each other and feel positive about their future.’
Alongside immersion trips for students, Catholic Mission has begun organising trips for senior educators to speak and train school leaders. Next January he’ll be heading over to Myanmar with a team of senior educators from the Ballarat diocese, he explains. ‘There we’ll conduct professional development training programs for teachers and principals of local schools and others in leadership positions.’
This week, Catholic Mission is running the Valentine’s Day high tea to raise awareness and advocacy for the Catholic Mission’s work in Cambodia, Ghana, Ethiopia and India. The event takes place at the Fitzroy Ballroom at the Sofitel on Collins on 14 February from 4:30 – 7pm. Tickets are $50.
For more information, visit https://www.catholicmission.org.au/
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