Speaking Personally: Joe Ryan

Fr Joe Ryan

Fr. Joe  was ordained priest in 1971 in Tipperary and has served in 6 parishes in the Westminster Diocese. He has been Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission for seven years as well as being responsible for parish duties. He has always tried to get involved in local issues and in the wider field and especially supporting the organisations working for peace and the good of society.

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from?
When I look back over my forty years of priesthood in the Westminster diocese, I have been influenced by the many wonderful people I have met and worked with, lay and clerical. The basic Gospel values and the ministry of Jesus has always been an inspiration. The concept that “Jesus has no hands, mind, heart, but ours”, offers a challenge and opportunity which I feel needs to be responded to. A major turning point in my life was a trip to the Philippines over 30 years ago, that exposed me to the struggle for justice and equality; the scandal of the divide between rich and poor and the fact that one could be a voice for the voiceless. The example of peace workers, campaigners, has helped to open my eyes, mind and heart, to be part of the struggle for justice in our world. The invitation to come on board has been there, and I feel it a privilege to be able to support and respond. It is so vital to seek the support of like-minded people. When it comes to Justice and Peace issues it is very easy to feel isolated from the main body of the Catholic Church. So often one needs to be outspoken on issues, and this can be misinterpreted as being disloyal or misguided, or irrelevant or any other dismissive attitude. When you overcome these notions, you then just get on with the job.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today?
So often when I speak to people on Justice and Peace issues, the scales come over their eyes and the matter is not considered to be part of our Christian witness. Justice issues are at the heart of Jesus’ Gospel message – not some optional extra we will engage in when we have “saved our souls”. As had been said again and again, “The Church teaching on Social Justice is one of the best kept secrets ever”. This alleged concept is not acceptable and we must not rest until we totally unpack the treasures now ignored. There are so many concerns being addressed by different agencies – overcoming poverty, the arms trade; climate change; migrants/ refugees; homelessness; Human Rights, etc. all of these and more, need to be pursued. We need to support one another and share expertise even more. We need to be a voice for the voiceless!!

What sustains you in your commitment?
I like to be prepared! On the day of judgement, Jesus will say: “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison … and you came to my help!” This truth is very clear and there should be no confusions in our minds as to the priorities recommended by Jesus. I would say it’s the support of like-minded people who are already long since committed to the task of peace. There are so many people who quietly get on with meetings, campaigning, expressing their views by word and deed – simply being witnesses to supporting human values. The goodness of parishioners who have supported me over my 40 years of priesthood and friend’s active in Justice and Peace movements. I have taken the responsibility of Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission seriously and it has opened up challenges and opportunities I had never dreamt of. It is a privilege to be part of an important voice within the Catholic Church, to be able to reach out in so many different ways in an official capacity. It can also mean “ploughing a lonely furrow” – but there is also so much support all around.