As a parochial elementary-school student, I had to memorize this passage spoken by Portia in Act IV, Scene I, of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
We are all constantly bombarded with requests for donations to any number of good and–let’s be frank–not so good causes. The line between generosity and naivete can be razor-thin, and to give generously to causes espousing altruism but practicing avarice goes beyond naivete. It’s myopically succumbing to swindle.
One cause beyond reproach is the Mercy Centre. Aptly named, it is located in Bangkok, where the misery of poverty has lately been compounded by destructive floods sweeping through Thailand. The Mercy Centre selflessly serves the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick in Bangkok’s slums.
Nonprofit and intentionally nondenominational, the Mercy Centre was founded in 1973 by Father Joseph Maier, a Redemptorist priest who takes his vocation seriously and acts on it each day. Though he would undoubtedly resist such a characterization, Father Joe is a throwback to the religious I used to read about as a schoolchild, such as Father Damien aiding lepers in Hawaii during the 19th century. Though he would object again, Father Joe shares the missionary fervor of Mother Teresa, whose commitment to relief for the indigent of Calcutta was admired worldwide.
Father Joseph Maier is not a figure of vaulting global reputation, nor would he seek it-unless, and only unless, it would help the impoverished and infirmed of Bangkok.
The list of good works and genuine charity by the Mercy Centre is long and ever-lengthening. It includes more than 180 abandoned, orphaned, trafficked, or HIV-infected children finding shelter, food, medicine, and other care there; more than 3,000 children, ages 3 to 6, getting a woefully needed education in 26 preschools; 100 patients getting annual assistance in an adult hospice called the Bridge of Hope Caring Centre; and over 10,000 homes built, repaired, or renovated for the elderly and poverty-stricken.
What about the poor, the abused, the neglected, the uneducated, the homeless, the hungry, the long-term unemployed, and the desperately ill in the United States? Shouldn’t we first take care of those in greatest need here rather than there?
I fully understand those two questions, and I remain mystified why our federal, state, and local governments–even when flush with money–fail so miserably in responding to them. According to John 12:8, “The poor will always be with you.” It’s a biblical passage cited too often by pompous pols and Zelig-like zealots as an excuse to ignore the poor. The ubiquity of the indigent makes them invisible, and their voicelessness and powerlessness in the political arena make them easy to overlook and, unconscionably, to denigrate. Punishing the poor for being poor (“I’m rich, why aren’t you?” is the current mantra of Mammon) and otherwise re-victimizing victims have shamefully become economic and political sport in the U.S.
In an open letter I received from musician Donie Carroll, who is organizing a gala fundraising concert entitled “In Partnership with the Poor” for the Mercy Centre on Nov. 14 at Manhattan’s Irish Repertory Theatre, he wrote: “I close in the hope that you will give this [fundraiser for the Mercy Centre] favorable consideration even though we know in our hearts you do have your own favorite charities.”
Perhaps you give exclusively to a favorite stateside charity. If so, bravo. Any act of charity deserves encouragement during these tough times.
But if the daunting daily challenges faced by Bangkok’s Mercy Centre persuade you to support it additionally, know that “every penny earned will go directly to the Mercy Centre,” emphasizes Donie Carroll, who for the past three years has been quietly raising money for it on his own. Mary Cahill, a UNICEF veteran, is involved in coordinating this fundraising that extends to outright donations.
The Irish Repertory Theatre’s artistic director, Charlotte Moore, and producing director, Ciaran O’Reilly, have offered their venue rental-free for the Nov. 14 fundraising concert. The musicians, dancers, and writers are all donating their services without fee. In addition to Donie Carroll, they include Mick Moloney, Brian Conway, Brendan Dolan, Mattie and Deirdre Connolly, Girsa, Black 47 bandleader and fellow Irish Echo columnist Larry Kirwan, Athena Tergis, Gabriel Donohue, author Colum McCann, and the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, featuring Dan Neely, who is helping with the publicity for the concert. Some special guests are also expected.
This “In Partnership with the Poor” benefit concert for the Mercy Centre will take place at 8 p.m. on Mon., Nov. 14, at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011. For tickets or other information, contact Donie Carroll at 917-723-7488 or [email protected], or Dan Neely at 646-270-1172 or [email protected] If you can’t attend, consider a direct donation via Mary Cahill at 718-545-9554 or [email protected]
The opportunity to act with mercy for Mercy is at hand.
John Doyle in concert
Founding member of Solas, current member of the Green Fields of America, former music director and member of Joan Baez’s band, and half of a notable duo with fiddler Liz Carroll who earned a Grammy nomination for their 2009 album “Double Play,” Dublin-born, Asheville, N.C., resident John Doyle has also bloomed as a triple-threat solo singer, songwriter, and guitarist. His new solo CD, “Shadow and Light,” on Compass Records is his third solo release overall.
To promote his new album, John Doyle will be performing solo at 8 p.m., Thurs., Nov. 10, in the Turning Point, 468 Piermont Ave., Piermont, NY 10968 (845-359-1089); with fiddler Duncan Wickel at 8:30 p.m., Sat., Nov. 12, in Wilde Auditorium, U. of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford, CT 06117 (800-274-8587 or 860-768-4228); and solo on Thurs., Nov. 17, in a house concert sponsored by the Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society in Fairfield, Conn. (For exact time and location, call 203-256-8453 or e-mail [email protected])
Duncan Wickel, Doyle’s concert partner on Nov. 12, is a former member of the Red Wellies trio and the Hay Brigade quartet. The latter comprised Wickel, Dan Gurney (son of “Dinotopia” series author James Gurney) on button accordion, Forrest O’Connor (son of famed fiddler Mark O’Connor) on mandolin, and Nicky Schwartz on bass. They self-issued a downloadable debut album of eight tracks in Nov. 2010. Dan Gurney did the design.