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PASSINGS / Aengus Finucane

Irish priest founded global aid charity

October 07, 2009|TIMES STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Father Aengus Finucane, 77, a Roman Catholic missionary and Irish aid pioneer with the Concern charity, died Tuesday at the Spiritan Fathers' residence for retired priests in Dublin after a short, unspecified illness, the charity announced.

Finucane, who was born in the western Irish city of Limerick, was a priest in the Spiritan Fathers order in Nigeria during that country's 1967-70 civil war with the breakaway state of Biafra. Determined to combat famine as the Nigerian military crushed the rebellion, he coordinated with Dublin-based workers to channel aid to Biafra through its often-bombed airstrip and by cargo ship.

Finucane later recalled how the Nigerian air force bombed the airstrip every day, but his parishioners "lined up in the forest with truckloads of gravel to fill the holes in the runway."

That aid effort, initially known as Concern Africa, shortened its name to Concern in 1970 as it gained ambitions to provide food, medical support and education in many of the world's poorest countries.

Finucane became Concern's field director in Bangladesh in 1972 after its war of independence from Pakistan. Tours of duty in Thailand, the killing fields of Cambodia and Idi Amin's murderous Uganda followed.

Finucane served as the charity's chief executive from 1981 to 1997 and since then as its honorary president responsible for spearheading fundraising in the United States.

His credo, oft-repeated when stumping for donors, was: "We have a strong inclination to do evil -- and you have to fight like hell to do any good."

During Finucane's time as chief executive, Concern expanded aid work into 11 countries and dramatically increased its fundraising.

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