Irish nun receives a presidential award for her services in the Middle East
Irish missionary, Sr. Bridget Tighe – a native of Ballindoon in Co. Sligo - was presented recently with a Presidential Distinguished Service Award by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.
By Matt Moran
Irish missionary, Sr. Bridget Tighe – a native of Ballindoon in Co. Sligo - was presented recently with a Presidential Distinguished Service Award by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. The award is a recognition of her 40 years of ministry and service to the poor and vulnerable in the Middle East.
Speaking after receiving her award, Sr. Bridget who is Director of Caritas Jerusalem, said: “Receiving the Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Award was a huge honour not just for me but for all those who have made my work possible over the years. I felt privileged to meet our President Michael D. Higgins who has done so much to raise awareness of the contribution of the Irish overseas as well as injustice and the violation of human rights.”
When she was 17, Bridget Tigheemigrated to England to study nursing at Whipp's Cross Hospital in East London. There was a Franciscan church close by and she joined the Third Order of St. Francis.
She entered the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood at Ladywellon 25 June 1965, and after being professed she served Palestinian refugees in Jordan as a nurse and midwife. She studied theology at Cambridge University, and specialised in health economics at the London School of Economics.
She launched the prestigious Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge in 1993, and served as vice rector of Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.
Sr Bridget with children of fishermen on the border with Egypt
Sr. Bridget has served almost 40 years in the Middle East. For 25 years she worked with Palestinian refugees in Jordan. More recently she has been working with the beleaguered Palestinian communities in Gaza and Jerusalem. She led the Caritas Jerusalem medical centre in Gaza where the population has suffered from repeated attacks by the Israeli military.
Trócaire – the aid agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference - has partnered with her and Caritas Jerusalem over many years. Their current project is supporting a primary health care intervention for young children in the Gaza Strip. Sr. Bridget does not take a salary, merely a living allowance.
Gaza comprises 365km2 of land blockaded on all sides by the Israeli military who control all access and all movements of food, goods and medicines. There are now around 1,200 Christians, of whom 170 are Catholic, in a total population of 1.8 million in Gaza.
“It is a fundamentalist Muslim enclave but Christians are not harassed, in fact they are protected to some extent” says Sr. Bridget. “Tragically, the Christian community has reduced in number over a short time. The number keeps going down. Christians generally get permission from Israel to go to Jerusalem and Bethlehem for Christmas and Easter and some who go do not return. They stay so-called ‘illegally’ in the West Bank and when whole families go that is the future gone.”
In addition to the Holy Family Parish where Cardinal Nichols celebrated Mass during his solidarity visit in November 2016, the Catholic Church runs two schools where over 90% of the pupils are Muslim, an orphanage for disabled children, and other charities offering support to the population as a whole.
Gaza has been described as the world’s largest prison. “The people are living in extreme poverty, without access to clean water or basic sanitation. And inevitably, many people become sick” Sr. Bridget explains. “Gaza’s medical services are being stretched to breaking point. The hospitals are understaffed, there aren’t enough beds and medical supplies are running critically low. Even if you need emergency medical care, you can’t leave Gaza. Not without permission from Egypt or the Israeli Government. People in Gaza are trapped.”
The clinic Sr. Bridget has been serving for the past five years treats up to 100 people a day. Many patients have wounds that have become seriously infected, so often limbs must be amputated.The Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood in partnership with Caritas Jerusalem/Gaza have implemented a project funded by Misean Cara to enable the elderly people of Gaza to gain access to medical facilities, to raise awareness of the medical needs of the elderly in the region, and also to highlight and promote their right to services.
Last August, Sr. Bridget received the inaugural Trócaire Romero Award in recognition of her outstanding work for social justice and peace.Receiving that award, Sr. Bridget said: “It’s a great honour, receiving this award from Ireland and from Trócaire. I couldn’t think of anything better, because most of my adult life and professional life has been spent outside of my home country, and for Ireland to recognise my work abroad is truly a great honour.
“I see this Trócaire award as recognition and support of what I have done, but it is also for my own family and my religious family. I could not have achieved this without their support, for which I’m grateful. My family have supported me from childhood onwards and my religious community, my sisters, have been behind me throughout all of the different kind of work I have done.I could not do what I have done in Gaza and what I’m doing now without all of their support” she concluded with the usual humility of a missionary.
Trócairethen Executive Director, Éamonn Meehan said, “Trócaire is delighted to be honouring Sr. Bridget. Throughout her long and distinguished career she has dedicated herself to the service of the poor and the vulnerable. In Jordan, in Gaza and today in Jerusalem, she offers care and support to Palestinian communities who continue to suffer great injustices. This award honours people who continue to embody the values of Blessed Oscar Romero who was murdered in 1980 in San Salvador because of his support for justice and peace. Sr. Bridget’s work is vital and we at Trócaire are proud to support it.”
Trócaire partners with over 400 local organisations throughout the world which work often at great risk to their personnel to support communities facing threats and injustice. The Trócaire Romero International Award recognises the outstanding work carried out by one of these partner organisations annually.
Sr. Bridget is unique in being the recipient of two prestigious public recognition awards from her home country within the same year. “For me” she says “it is a privilege to be in the Holy Land, and to walk the same ground Jesus would have walked on, doing my small part to help those who need me most as best I can. I love Gaza and for as long as I am blessed with good health and energy, I will continue to help the children, women and men who call Gaza home.” Readers wishing to support her work can do so through Trócaire.
(Matt Moran is a writer based in Ireland. He is the author of book – The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On – which is available from www.onstream.ie and from Amazon)
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