The Pontifical Mission Societies include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Holy Childhood Association, the Society of St. Peter Apostle, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious. These Societies promote a prayerful missionary spirit among baptized Catholics and to gather a fund of support for the evangelizing and pastoral programs of more than 1,150 local churches of the Developing World.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Meeting to Celebrate

Sometimes business meetings can be long and time-consuming, no matter how productive the decisions and discussions are during them. The meeting I'll be attending next month in Quito, Ecuador, will be long - six days long, in fact - but the outcome will certainly be a blessing, most especially for the Missions.

That August gathering - the third Missionary Congress for the Americas (CAM) to take place since 1999 - continues to reflect the late Pope John Paul's vision of "one America." CAM represents an invitation by the Universal Church to come together as a continental church to focus on our mission history, as well as our mission awareness and mission needs. Having been a participant at all three continent-wide gatherings, I can assure you that this presents wonderful opportunities for comparing and sharing.

The delegates from the various countries in North, Central and South America have distinguished themselves as missionaries, as animators of the faith in home countries or mission countries, or as formators in seminaries, Religious Congregations. They are lay people, priests, Religious, Bishops.

The delegation from the United States mirrors the missionary and immigrant fabric of the United States - the same tapestry that seemed to delight Pope Benedict XVI during his recent visit to our country. With those in attendance from our country will be several diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies. You can learn more about CAM 3 at a special web site.

Know that at the closing Liturgy on August 17, during which missionaries will be sent, with the blessing of all those in attendance, I will be holding in prayer all who, in prayer and sacrifice, are missionaries from the Americas each and every day.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking Fall

I like the cool - even cold weather. Just ask anyone in our national office of the Pontifical Mission Societies and they'll tell you how I never mind if the air conditioner is cranking.

As the summer heats up - the weather was brutally hot this past weekend here in New York - I cannot help but think of the fall, not only for its cooler temperatures but also for the celebration of World Mission Sunday.

Perhaps already this summer, you have heard a talk given at Mass in your parish by a missionary. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith, one of four Pontifical Mission Societies, coordinates a program, the Missionary Cooperation Plan, which enables these parish presentations. The Plan started in the 1930s as a way for U.S. missionary communities to raise awareness of their work and the Church's worldwide mission, as well as to encourage vocations and gather support. Today presenters also include persons from the Developing World, living witnesses to the good that you accomplish with your gifts to the Pontifical Mission Societies.

These visits also allow a glimpse of the Missions today, and help us to prepare our hearts and minds for World Mission Sunday, when the whole world unites in recommitment to our common vocation to be missionaries. This responsibility to share our faith, given to us at Baptism, begins here at home, and extends to the furthest corners of the globe, where missionaries you meet and hear this summer offer witness to the healing, saving love of Jesus. As our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI says in his message for WMS this year (October 19): "Today there are countless people who are waiting for the proclamation of the Gospel, those who are thirsting for hope and love." On World Mission Sunday, we have the opportunity to be part of the mission story today, helping to make sure, through our prayers and sacrifices, that they discover the source of all hope and love - the Lord Jesus Himself.

So as you listen to missionaries in the heat of this summer, think fall. There's a cool celebration waiting for you this and every October.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just Like a Family

A family. That's what I experienced at Jardin de Maria Girls' Center in Ngombo, Sri Lanka, on a visit there earlier this month.

This center, just a year old, is home to 25 young girls, aged five to 14, all of whom were orphaned by the tsunami that devastated this Asian nation in December 2004. In fact, contributions to the Southeast Asia Solidarity Fund helped to build this orphanage, and continue to support its loving service to these children.

Missionary Sisters from the Philippines staff the center, caring for these girls as mothers would. They cook and do laundry, and the children also help with the chores. They teach them English and other subjects. Above all, they offer these youngsters unconditional love, telling them also of the great love that Jesus has for each one of them. Their loving service and this message is a stabilizing force in their lives, especially after the fear and confusion that followed the tsunami.

One of the Sisters told me that they have seen the transformation in these girls. "They have found comfort and hope with us and one another," this Sister said. "They have become a family."

As I returned to the United States in mid-July, I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving for each of you in this "one family in mission," grateful for your prayers and your support of the poor of the Missions. May the Lord bless you for your generous missionary hearts!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lessons from the Missions

Just before I began this missionary journey to Asia - one that will be completed on Monday, July 14 - I recorded more "Mission Lessons," radio messages from the Pontifical Mission Societies that "teach and inspire." Well the days I spent in Sri Lanka this past week certainly provided me with many more such teachable moments. Here are just a few sample lessons.

To start there were the overwhelming encounters with joy - contagious joy, in fact. The Religious Sisters I met reflected boundless joy in their work with children in orphanages and schools, and in their service at Church-run clinics. I witnessed that joy as well in their visits to poor families. These local Religious revealed the peace and hope of our Lord just by their presence.

The next lesson was in humbling gratitude. I returned to the homes of families who had survived the tsunami. I had met these mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and children on my last visit in 2006. There were Buddhist and Catholic families. How grateful they remain to the local parish priest there for helping them after the devastation of that tsunami. The priest and his parish team provided material help, as they were able, but, above all, they comforted them in their suffering, meeting their pain with the loving heart of our Lord.

In the end, my greatest lesson - as it always is - was about love. The message of love - from those families, from children at the orphanage, from the poor I met throughout Sri Lanka - is more profound and more penetrating than what I could ever hope to share with them. In many cases, it is a love born from a deep faith in Jesus - a faith that unites us all in this "one family in mission."

As I prepare to return home - with many memories captured in photographs and stories - I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all the great "teachers" I met on this visit to the Missions.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Checking on Family Around the Fourth

With the Fourth of July tomorrow, many are planning gatherings that will involve family. Well count me in on that, but I'm seeing family - yours and mine - in Asia.

As you read this, I'm on a flight headed to Asia, where I'll visit our mission family in Sri Lanka. My last visit there was in February 2006 where I visited many places that had been devastated by tsunami of December 2004.

I remember spending time with Father Charles at his parish. The first wave of the tsunami hit his church during the distribution of Communion. His first thought, he told me then, was, "This is the end of the world." Immediately water engulfed all of the church, and he started to literally fish out bodies and take the injured up a flight of stairs to a second story. Just 15 minutes later, a second wave hit. In all 24 people died in that parish church.

After Father Charles told me that story, the very next thing we did together was to celebrate Mass in that same church. We prayed for all who had lost their lives that day, and we prayed as well for the families who were then, and probably still are today, grieving.

Another visual site for me from that early 2006 visit was to be in the exact area in Galle that had been shown on television hundreds of times, where buses were floating and being impelled against buildings almost like toy vehicles. I stood there in that place, now once again bustling with activity, and tried to imagine the power of that tsunami; in some ways it was unfathomable for me.

If the tsunami wave was powerful, even more powerful was the loving response of the Church through priests, Religious Sisters and Brothers, and lay catechists immediately after it. All sprung into action, reaching out to the suffering, helping with those who were injured, comforting the grieving.

No more was this loving care expressed than to the orphans of this natural disaster. I visited a number of orphanages on my 2006 visit, and I'll be visiting these sites again on this mission trip. At each stop, I witnessed the loving care given to these little ones by the Sisters - care supported by the contributions of our young people to the Holy Childhood Association. I was most struck as well by the great joy of the children themselves. Ripped from their families by the giant wave of the tsunami they had found a new family, here among the Sisters at the orphanage.

I'm looking forward to seeing the little ones in the family - your mission family, too. As you celebrate the Fourth of July here at home with family and friends, know that there are many in your family not with you in presence but always with you in prayer - grateful prayer for your loving prayers and support through the Pontifical Mission Societies. Stay tuned next week for more on my "family reunion" in Asia.