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, October 30, 2008

Living Dollars

Did you ever see "living dollars"? Well I have -- just a few weeks ago, in Indonesia.

During that mission visit, I met children on the island of Nias who were lovingly cared for by Sisters, both at an orphanage and in a home for children with disabilities. I also got to know parishioners at the only Catholic parish in Banda Aceh on the predominantly Muslim island of Sumatra. As I spent time with the children and the Sisters, and the people of the parish, I realized that I was face-to-face with the living, breathing reality of your contributions to the Pontifical Mission Societies.

On the island of Nias, vocations to the priesthood and Religious life are flourishing. In these vocations, there is great hope, indeed, as local men and women prepare for a lifetime of being our Lord’s presence among their own people. And you are part of that hope, as you support, through prayer and sacrifice, their formation for the priesthood and Religious life through the Society of St. Peter Apostle, one of the four Pontifical Mission Societies.

The Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of Mercy form one such Religious Community. They staff an orphanage on the island of Nias, as well as a school. In fact, your contributions are also helping to rebuild that school which was destroyed by an earthquake in March 2005. How beautiful to watch the loving care these Sisters provide to these children, helping them to realize that they are not alone and that the Lord loves them.

More living examples of your generous response to the Pontifical Mission Societies were found at a home for handicapped and disabled children and young people, also on Nias. It was inspiring for me to watch the Franciscan Sisters as they helped these little ones go through their everyday routines. The smiles and joy on the faces of these children gave witness to the fact that the message of these Sisters -- the "good news" of God's great love for each one of us -- was heard.

And finally there was my visit to Banda Aceh, an area of Sumatra devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of December 2004. As I celebrated Mass in the rebuilt Sacred Heart Church -- refurbished with your gifts to the Pontifical Mission Societies -- I realized that here was, perhaps, the greatest living example of all. In this church, the small Catholic community on this Muslim island is able to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus, to be nourished and strengthened by our Lord in the Eucharist.

As I greeted parishioners during the Sign of Peace at the Mass I concelebrated at Sacred Heart Church, I heard from many an extension of that greeting of peace and thanksgiving to each of you who support the Church's evangelizing mission through the Pontifical Mission Societies. I pass that on to you now, and the message of my own great gratitude, having witnessed the living reality of your dollars of support.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rejoicing Once Again

What could top the celebration of World Mission Sunday -- the day when the world's Catholics unite at the Eucharist to recommit ourselves, through prayer and sacrifice, to the Church's mission to bring Jesus' message of love and hope to a waiting world? Well, there was something -- and it came by e-mail.

First, let's turn back time a bit, to this past spring. Back then, we received a note -- again by e-mail -- from our mission family in the Sudan. Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek of Torit wrote about the return of refugees from his diocese; they came by bus, by truck and on foot. A decades-long Good Friday in that African nation had been transformed into the joy of Easter as these hundreds of refugees -- scattered throughout that African nation and in neighboring Uganda as well -- came home.

War broke out in the Sudan in 1983, with the violence reaching Torit in 1986. Negotiations between 2002 and 2004 resulted in the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, eventually enabling this return of refugees.

As he watched his people return, Bishop Mutek wrote us, he said that he "saw the heart of Jesus." "All the suffering they had endured was before my eyes," he continued. "It was tied to the suffering of our Lord."

As he welcomed them home, Bishop Mutek celebrated Mass, praying and rejoicing with his people.

Just yesterday, on the Thursday after World Mission Sunday, Bishop Mutek wrote again -- with more "good news" of rejoicing. His people, returned from exile just months before, gathered at the Table of the Lord this past Sunday -- just as Catholics here in the United States and throughout the world did -- to celebrate our common vocation to be missionaries.

"The day of my joy, and the joy of the Church," he wrote of World Mission Sunday in Torit in the Sudan. "This World Mission Sunday was one of the best." Indeed, knowing that in the Sudan they were gathered, along with all of us here, to rejoice in the mission of all the baptized, is cause for great joy indeed. What could top the celebration of World Mission Sunday? Only more such "Good News" from the Missions!

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Week With Family

Sometimes the days are filled with meetings. This week, gratefully, those meetings were all about family.

After our office was closed Monday in observance of Columbus Day, allowing our national office family to spend time with their own families, I returned to work Tuesday still filled with the blessings of the encounters of my most recent mission visit to Asia. In the early afternoon, I welcomed Bishop Francis Antonysamy of Kumbakonam, India, and a priest from that country who is serving here, Father Raj Silva. I had met the bishop during a pastoral visit to India a year or so ago.

We spoke at length about the recent persecution of Christians in India, and about the unspeakable acts of violence committed against the Church and priests, Religious and lay Catholics.

How does the Church deal with that? How does anyone respond to such violence?

"We must educate about Jesus," Bishop Antonysamy told me. "We are called to witness to Jesus and to share His transforming, saving, life-giving love. Always we must uplift people in love."

Most appropriately, the very next day, our national office family welcomed those who can and do spread that message nationwide -- who raise awareness and support for the work of the Pontifical Mission Societies; such work benefits the Church in India and throughout the Developing World.

About a dozen of our diocesan mission office personnel -- from the Dioceses of Allentown (Pennsylvania), Arlington (Virginia), Orange and San Diego (California), and Paterson (New Jersey), as well as the Archdioceses of Chicago (Illinois), Indianapolis (Indiana) and Washington, D.C. -- came to the national office for a two-day orientation this past Wednesday and Thursday.

There were presentations by all members of the national office staff about the history of these Societies; about the support provided to the Missions -- where it goes, the process by which these distributions are decided; about where we've been able to send financial help this year because of your contributions; about our financial accountability and transparency, and about the programs and materials related to this process of informing -- educating about Jesus -- and forming Catholics here to be missionaries in prayer and sacrifice.

My time with family from diocesan offices included the celebration of Mass on each day.

At the celebration of the Eucharist, we find the source for our "uplifting" in the Lord, of which my friend in India spoke; there, at the altar, we find the fullest expression of what the Apostles were blessed to share in the Upper Room. Our Lord, present in the Eucharist, strengthens us as it does our brothers and sisters in India, to face the challenges, the difficulties, yes even the dangers of our lives. Our Lord, present in the Eucharist, nourishes each of us in the work of the Pontifical Mission Society to support the Church as it serves and uplifts the poor and the suffering. Our Lord, present in the Eucharist, sustains each one of us in our daily call to be His missionaries.

What a great way to spend the week before World Mission Sunday! May this Sunday's "family" celebration of our Baptismal vocation to witness to Jesus renew all the baptized in their commitment to our Lord's mission around the world.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blessings All Around

Back home in the United States, now just for a day, I returned from this most recent mission visit and found myself unpacking blessings -- memories of the events and people I met during the journey.

I've already written to you about the heroic missionaries and villagers in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and Mass at Sacred Heart parish church there, newly restored with help from the Pontifical Mission Societies. What a blessing -- and an inspiration -- to meet the many young men preparing for the priesthood and the young women in formation to be Religious Sisters on the nearby island of Nias. Both areas had been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that hit that part of Southeast Asia in December 2004. Today, the service of the Church remains as strong as it ever was in these areas, and the poor and suffering are blessed by the loving service of the priests, Sisters and catechists, and the missionaries I met.

I was personally blessed to make a stop back at the Good Shepherd Center in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The Good Shepherd Sisters operate this home for girls in northern Thailand. Just recently the Pontifical Mission Societies provided support to improve the facility and expand services. Vocational training now includes cooking and baking. I am promised a cake on my next visit, and I agreed to show the girls how to make pizza.

Many of their stories of the girls are often heartbreaking. Some have lost parents through illness or violence, while others have been rescued from human trafficking and slavery. The Good Shepherd Sisters are helping to write a new chapter in their lives, offering them the hope of our Lord to believe that all things are possible with His assistance. About 80 percent of the girls there are not Catholic. And so the Sisters bring them the "Good News" of Jesus every day. There are Bible study classes, where they see the loving hand of God throughout human history and realize that His blessings extend to them.

What a privilege to celebrate Mass for the girls at this center, and to be able to proclaim the message "spoken" so well -- in word and witness -- by the Sisters. The Lord loves them, unconditionally, without end. That knowledge is a blessing for all of us, indeed.

Yes, this journey, there were blessings all around.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Focus on His Presence

As you read this, I will be heading home from my most recent mission pastoral visit to Asia, specifically to Indonesia. During the entire journey, I was struck by the hope-filled presence of our Lord -- in the people I met, in the Religious Sisters, priests and missionaries who served the poor.

On Nias, an island off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, I saw the site of a nearly complete Catholic school. That island was devastated both by the earthquake and tsunami of December 2004, and the subsequent earthquake of March 2005. The school was built with the help of children of the United States through the Holy Childhood Association. What joy greeted me on my visit! Besides the children, eager and grateful to return to school, there were the growing numbers of young men and women on this island who had answered the Lord's call to serve him as priests and Sisters. In their vocations is great hope, indeed, as these local men and women prepare for a lifetime of being our Lord's presence among their own people.

You may recall my speaking about my March 2005 visit to Banda Aceh a couple of weeks ago in this blog. The 150-foot long ship that was carried in by the tsunami waters and which literally pulverized homes in the area remains there today, as a memorial to the devastating event of that day after Christmas. The only Catholic parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus, has now been restored -- church and convent buildings -- thanks to your help through the Pontifical Mission Societies. What a privilege to celebrate Mass at that church, marking its 82nd anniversary on this predominantly Muslim island. The people here are truly heroic. And the missionaries serving among them are as well, as they continually reveal, day after day, no matter the circumstances, the love of our Lord. It was inspiring.

When I telephoned in these thoughts from this Asian mission visit, I spoke with members of our national office family who, on Friday, October 3, had been at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, along with hundreds of children for the Children’s Worldwide Eucharistic Holy Hour sponsored by the World Apostolate of Fatima. This annual event, which was broadcast live on Eternal Word Television Network, brings together children to pray in front of our Lord's presence in the Blessed Sacrament for peace in the families of the world. This year's event featured as presider the international secretary general of the Holy Childhood Association from Rome, Italy, Father Patrick Byrne, SVD. The young people gathered in the Basilica in Washington, D.C. -- along with those joined with them through EWTN's coverage -- also pray the World Mission Rosary. This Rosary -- envisioned by the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, former national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith -- calls to mind the continents of the world where the Church continues her evangelizing mission. Remembered especially in this Holy Hour as an intention of the World Mission Rosary are families throughout the world -- for peace in their lives and in their hearts. I want to offer my personal thanks to members of our mission office family who helped to fill that Basilica with young people and who assisted the World Apostolate of Fatima in the many details of the day: Father Patrick Posey, Director, and Sandy Bertini, HCA Coordinator, from Arlington, Virginia; Sister Marie de la Trinite Siopongco, SSVM, Director, and Sister Maria de la Revelacion Castaneda, SSVM, HCA Coordinator, from Washington, D.C. Many moments from that Holy Hour were captured on video that day; please go to our YouTube site to view these.

A visit to our mission family in Asia. A Holy Hour in Washington, D.C. Both marked by the life-giving, hope-filled presence of our Lord. There's no better focus in the world.