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.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Presence

Think Christmas and children are brought immediately to mind. As I write this message to you, we are just days from celebrating the birth of Jesus. And in the preparations for this celebration, I cannot help but think of the many children I met during my most recent mission visit to Asia — children who come to experience the love of our Lord, one Savior of the world, through the service of priests, Religious and lay people in the Missions.

In one parish in Nepal, there is a hostel for some 40 boys who attend a local school. Because these children live so far away from any school — a journey of two days by bus and five days walking — this is their only chance for an education. While at the hostel, these young people receive loving care from local Sisters.

And in Nagaland in northeast India, there were many Church-run orphanages. Most of these receive regular support from the gifts young people in our country offer to the Holy Childhood Association, a Pontifical Mission Society. The care offered these little ones goes beyond the basics of food, shelter and clothing. Above all, each comes to know that Jesus, born at Christmas, loves them, never abandons them, and so they are never alone.

Yes, children and Christmas. How great to be part of this “one family in mission,” supporting the presence of priests, Religious and lay people who share with the young the “Good News” of Jesus’ birth and His love for each one of us!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Family Time -- And Masses

They took place oceans and thousands of miles away. The most recent one was celebrated right here at home, just about a three-hour train ride from New York.

My time with mission family -- brothers and sisters in the Developing World, most specifically in Asia, and with young missionaries here at home, members of the Holy Childhood Association -- often centered, most appropriately, around the celebration of Mass.

This most recent mission pastoral visit took me to Nepal and to Nagaland in northeastern India. In Nepal, Catholics account for less than one percent of the population. And yet here the effectiveness of the Church's service to the poor and marginalized is significant. There are, for example, the network of schools run mostly by Jesuit missionaries.

And too there are the seven refugee camps with some 110,000 refugees, mostly from Bhutan, located, like Nepal, in the Himalayas. My host, Jesuit Bishop Anthony Sharma, and I visited every one of those refugee camps during my stay in his home country. These were very moving visits, especially the time spent with some of the 60,000 refugees who are set to be welcomed into our own country very soon. My prayer in these camps -- like those I offered at Masses throughout Nepal -- were ones for God's peace and strength for these people, whose lives have been filled with great uncertainty and suffering for so long.

Bishop Sharma also took me to a parish in east Nepal, where Salesian Father John Prakash was martyred this past July. Bishop Sharma and I venerated his room, the place where he was killed. For me, the difficult and dangerous circumstances under which missionaries live and serve were never more real than in those moments.

There were more Masses, at more parishes, throughout Nagaland in India as well. I even met the Spanish missionary Sister who was the very first to come to serve among the tribal people here. Sister Guadalupe was invited by the government more than 60 years ago because of her medical skills as a nurse. She was the very first Catholic to ever set foot in Nagaland, and, she told me, she secretly planted religious medals in the soil. On her return visit, during my time there, she was welcomed by some of the more than 58,000 Catholics who today call Nagaland home.

Still fresh from the memories of Masses with our faraway mission family, I returned home for a most special annual event on my calendar. Each year, the Holy Childhood Association sponsors a Christmas artwork contest. And each year, we invite the winning young people -- elementary school students -- and their families to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. for a Mass in recognition of their spreading the "Good News" of our Savior's birth through their inspiring drawings.

As I met with the winners after that Mass, I couldn't help but recall all the young people I met in India and in Nepal -- young people who prayed, especially at Mass, for our young missionaries here at home, just as our youth pray and sacrifice for them.

Yes, family time -- especially as Christmas draws nearer -- is always time well spent. And gathered at the Eucharist to be nourished and strengthened as missionaries by the Body and Blood of our Lord is the best family time of all -- no matter the location.