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, February 10, 2011

Mission Visit to Kenya

I can't put out of my mind or my missionary heart a simple, yet profound story told me by a missionary many years ago.

He shared with me how he was serving at a very high altitude, in a desolate and freezing cold area in the altiplano of Peru. It was on Good Friday and thousands who had walked great distances for this Holy Week celebration formed long lines to go to confession. My priest friend had already been hearing confessions for two long days; the fatigue was getting to him.

And in the middle of the Good Friday liturgy, just before the adoration of the cross, he lost it. People were jammed into the very humble church structure. Some were eating morsels of bread; others were sleeping from their own fatigue. The priest lashed out at the congregation, shouting: "Don't any of you care?"

Almost immediately, he realized how grossly unfair was his reaction to these poor humble souls. With a feeling of his own self-humiliation, he finished the liturgy with great difficulty. When he was removing his vestments, an elderly Indian approached him. With a tear coming down his cheek, this man looked at the priest, and said: "I thought you came here to teach us that God loves us and has sent us his Son." The old man then walked away.

In that moment, this missionary told me, he appreciated more than ever, in the most concrete way, what was his vocation. In fact, I would like to say that was the Pentecost moment of that priest's life -- a moment when the basic vocation to be missionary, as given all of us in baptism, was dramatically made aware to him.

Pentecost has, perhaps, been thought of as a historical moment, as an event that basically involved the apostles. But the reality is that Pentecost continues in our time, and each of us, through baptism, accepts the mandate to share the "good news" of Jesus with others, in effect, to be missionary.

On Feb. 10, a group of 10 from diocesan offices of the Pontifical Mission Societies, accompanied by Catholic News Service's Barb Fraze, international editor, and Nancy Wiechec, visual media manager, will join me and Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert, director of mission education and promotion for Maryknoll, on a pastoral mission visit to Kenya in Africa.

At the heart of this visit is to help all involved experience firsthand Pentecost -- as we see the continuing mission of the church among the poor of Africa. And the time there will also afford all a better appreciation of how we -- the Pontifical Mission Societies, Maryknoll, the baptized of our parishes here at home -- are part of this "one family in mission."

This mission experience is also a part of this year's centennial celebration for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Maryknoll, along with the local church in Kenya, will be the hosts for our group in Nairobi, Kenya. Segments of our pastoral visit will highlight the legacy of Maryknoll's missionary presence in this African country, offering a balanced dimension of both giving and receiving in all missionary efforts.

Pentecost, in fact, invites all the baptized to accept a share in the missionary life of the church, rich and poor, near and far. Some of the initial projects of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers have long since been turned over to the local church. And, the local church has even reached out to other countries to extend their mission presence. Vocations have been abundant, and these are being shared not only in Kenya but also in other lands, including our church here at home.

We'll witness that dual aspect of the missionary church -- the giving and the receiving -- on our journey. Like my missionary priest friend, we'll be reminded that Pentecost continues, and involves all. My own missionary journeys have taught me well. By their joyous celebration of the gift of faith, the poor will remind us of our purpose as missionaries, every day -- to proclaim, in word and witness, the "good news" that Jesus loves each one of us.

We invite you to join us on this mission visit to Kenya by reading daily blogs and reports along the way. We offer special thanks to our friends at Catholic News Service, who will be publishing that information online and through their reporting in diocesan Catholic newspapers. The Pontifical Mission Societies will also feature this written and visual coverage at our new multimedia website,

I ask your prayers as we make this journey. For through your prayers, you are with us on this visit -- helping us to bring to all, as missionaries, the message that humble man in Peru told my priest friend: Jesus loves us, and that is "good news," indeed.

This blog was first "guest commentary" featured on Catholic News Service.