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, November 20, 2008

To the Land of the Himalaya

Tomorrow it's off to visit family once again -- our mission family in Nepal.

Nepal, a country of South Asia, is bordered by China to the north and India to the south, east and wet. The Himalaya mountain range runs across this Asian nation's northern and western parts, and eight of the world's 10 highest mountains -- including the highest, Mount Everest, are within its territory.

In May 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named a Jesuit missionary priest who had been serving the people of Nepal as the country's first bishop. Bishop Anthony Sharma is a native son of Nepal; born, in fact, in legendary Kathmandu. He was ordained a Jesuit priest there in 1968.

The modern Catholic presence in Nepal began in the 1950s when Jesuits from India established a school in Kathmandu. According to the 2006 Catholic Directory of Nepal, the predominantly Hindu country of 25 million people has 7,500 Catholics served by 56 priests, all but 12 of them Religious, as well as 123 Religious Sisters and four Religious Brothers.

This past March, during Holy Week, Bishop Sharma celebrated for the first time a Chrism Mass with his brother priests. (At this Mass, there is the annual blessing of the oils; these oils are distributed among the parishes of the diocese for use in the Sacraments throughout the year. Priests are also invited to this special Mass and are given the opportunity to renew their vows during the Liturgy.) Some 500 Catholics joined 36 diocesan and Religious priests for that Mass at Assumption Parish, the main church in the capital city of Kathmandu.

"My happiness knows no bounds," Bishop Sharma said in his homily, according to a report in UCA News. He then urged his priests: "Don't only preach the Gospel, but be a gospel of Christ. Set an example for others, believe in what you read and teach what you believe. Let the Church and the number of followers grow by your preaching and actions ... Bring about unity in the Church ... Bring back those who have gone astray, as this is the duty of a priest."

I look forward to meeting this dynamic missionary bishop -- and to seeing the life and witness of the Church in this part of the mission world. Keep an eye on this "mission report" in early December for the mission story out of Nepal!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Taking a Count

It's something we all do. And November, a month of giving thanks, seems the best time to do it -- to count your blessings, the many reasons to offer prayerful gratitude to Almighty God.

Topping my list is my faith, our Lord's greatest gift to each of us. We can all surely recount stories of how our faith and trust in God helped us through life's difficulties, the inevitable challenges, large and small, that we face every day.

I am grateful as well for the presence in my life, now through many decades, of missionaries. I remember sitting in my elementary school classroom in Pittsburgh and hearing missionaries tell us their larger-than-life tales about their work and witness for our Lord.

Missionaries were my heroes then and remain so. They labor in the remotest corners of the world, places where there are no roads, no comforts from home. They serve in the midst of war and natural disaster; they witness immense suffering and extreme poverty.

Through it all, the missionary reaches out with the loving heart of our Lord, sharing with our brothers and sisters throughout the Developing World the hope and peace of Jesus Who suffered, died and rose for all the human family.

And missionaries are not only those who travel far from home. All of us baptized Catholics are missionaries, called to share our faith with others, and to support, through prayer and sacrifice, those who bring the "Good News" of Jesus to the poor throughout the world. That brings me to another "blessing" in my life -- the family of supporters of the Pontifical Mission Societies. Their donations -- great and small -- help the Church in Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and remote regions of Latin America to provide for the physical and, above all, spiritual needs of our mission family. These donors -- vital members of our "one family in mission" -- bring my blessing count to more than one million.

Taking a count of our blessings is a good thing. It reminds us of how much the Lord really loves us, most of all through the people He sends our way. Read about a missionary today; our new issue of MISSION offers eight such profiles. Then say a prayer for these priests, Religious and lay people who give us an example to follow -- one to truly give thanks to God for. And know that I offer a prayer of gratitude daily for all of you who are missionaries through your prayers and your gifts in support of the Church's worldwide mission.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Mission for Our Mission

As you read this, I will have just returned from Rome, Italy, where, with other national directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies, we spoke of getting financial help to the local churches most in need in the Missions. But we also returned home with a "mission" for our mission work.

This is the second such meeting that we national directors, including those from mission countries, have had. Our first meeting, in the spring, involves all national directors. During that gathering, we distributed the help provided by Catholics throughout the world to the local churches of Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and remote regions of Latin America. More than $90 million in assistance, for example, was sent from donations to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. About $7 million of that went to catechists in Africa -- lay men and women who bring the "Good News" of Jesus to the poor and the suffering, who teach others about our faith.

Additional help was sent from contributions to the Society of St. Peter Apostle to support young men preparing for the priesthood in seminaries throughout the Developing World and young men and women in formation as Religious Brothers and Sisters. Major seminaries received some $15.5 million in help. In the area of vocations in the Missions, there was much hope-filled news. At present, more than 30,000 young men are studying at mission major seminaries.

Last year, there were 2,397 priestly ordinations, with more than half of those in Africa.

We also, at that spring meeting, focused on providing for the needs of children in the Missions through the Holy Childhood Association. More than $22 million in help was offered, with the majority of that assistance going to the Church's service to the children of Africa.

You may recall one of my first blog reports, where I related the visit of our New York Pontifical Mission Societies director, Sister Pauline Chirchirillo, PBVM, to Zambia in Africa. There she saw many of the projects that the contributions of young people in our own country and worldwide to the Holy Childhood Association make possible -- like mother and child centers, and homes for children who have been abandoned or abused, where local Religious Sisters reach out with the loving tenderness of our Lord.

During this fall meeting of a smaller group of national directors, representing the various continents of the world, we distributed more such help, through these societies. But we national directors came away from that meeting convinced that we -- and those who work with us in diocesan offices in our countries -- must work even harder to make our mission known. I hope that you'll click on the links in this blog and read more about the great work accomplished -- with your help -- through the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Society of St. Peter Apostle and the Holy Childhood Association. I hope you'll read too about the Missionary Union, the fourth Pontifical Mission Society, that is concerned with education and formation, and not fundraising.

Just a few hours on the ground, and I feel satisfied that I've started this mission for our mission works -- the task of making better known what we accomplish together as "one family in mission" so that our brothers and sisters throughout the Developing World may come to know about Jesus and His hope, love and peace.