Melbourne Overseas Missions was established by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Cardinal Knox, in 1968. Dr Knox had been the Pope’s Nuncio in India before being appointed to Melbourne. He had been involved in missionary work for many years and decided that there should be an opportunity for the Melbourne Diocese to become involved directly in missionary work.
Volunteers were called for from the diocesan priests and initially, three priests were sent to South America and three were sent to Papua New Guinea. Fr Maurice Adams, one of the original three sent to PNG, died some time ago. Having seen the extreme need for a medical doctor for the Kamea people living in the highlands of the Gulf Province of PNG, Fr Adams was asked to attend a medical course at the Port Moresby University. He became qualified and returned to serve the Kamea people until ill health caused his return in 1995.
MOM has sent priests, religious sisters and lay missionaries to many other countries including Africa, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, and the migrant camps of Hong Kong. Basic needs of disadvantaged people are being addressed. Schools, medical outposts, a hospital, accommodation and of course churches have been built. Other work has involved the building of airstrips, roads and hydroelectric power generation.
Some of the missionaries have indeed given their lives in the service of God’s people. Examples are Fr Besson, Fr Cullen, Vin and Ann Cafarella who were killed in air crashes in PNG. The main activity of MOM, is now concentrated in the Highlands of the Gulf Province of PNG. This country is going through the pain of rebirth since their Declaration of Independence over thirty years ago. UNICEF report that PNG is among the poorest nations in the world with up to 50% infant mortality. Malnutrition, diarrhoea, malaria and respiratory diseases are still very prevalent. Support is also given to the work of Moira Kelly who brings disadvantaged children from Albania to Melbourne for medical procedures. There is also a lay missionary working in The Gambia and Sr/Dr Ann Stevens running a clinic and schools in Sierra Leone.
There is still much work to be done. Fr John Flynn, has come across a village where he was the first white man to penetrate in the remote area of the Swanston District in the Gulf Province PNG. Some 40 to 50 thousand Kamea people live in these highlands, many still await to hear the Word of God. These Mountain People are forgotten by their own government who are more intent in meeting the needs of the people in provincial capitals in Port Moresby and Lae. Fr Flynn, together with Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny and lay missionaries, press on with this work in a quiet but effective way.
Some of the achievements of MOM are recorded in the mandatory Annual Reports issued by MOM. The cost of issuing these reports together with the cost of mail for issuing tax deductible receipts for donations, are the only major expenses. MOM is a voluntary organization and as such is able to minimize expenses. This ensures that donations given are used for the benefit of disadvantaged people.
The people of the Archdiocese of Melbourne can be proud of their direct participation and support of the work of MOM. Activity is currently located in areas such as PNG, East Timor, Peru, Albania, Gambia and Sierra Leone.