Why do the pope’s mission societies matter to your parish?
St. Thomas Aquinas is said to have encountered Pope Innocent II and the pope remarked, “Thomas, look all around Rome; Peter can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold I have not!’” Thomas retorted, “Perhaps, your holiness, it is also why the pope can no longer say to the paralytic, ‘Rise, take up your mat and walk.’”
The point of St. Thomas’ comment to the pope is that prioritizing Jesus’ final command to his disciples — “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19) — also requires that we trust exclusively in Our Lord. We are confirmed in that trust by the miracles we witness daily. The Pontifical Mission Societies assist us in realizing our missionary vocation. In doing so, we can see those miracles around us. Let me explain.
Resources to Share the Gospel
I can testify that the Society for the Propagation of the Faith provides the necessary resources to the Church in places that are hearing the Gospel for the first time. With my own eyes, I have seen how parish priests like you and me survive on just $300 a year in many parts of the world; how some of our brothers serving in the most deprived areas have either inadequate or no health insurance. Yet they are not anxious or preoccupied, but joyful and zealous for the proclamation of the Gospel.
Mission dioceses have houses of formation and seminaries that educate future vocations filled with eager candidates. They remain joyful even as they must contend with food scarcity and living conditions that we may find deplorable. The pope’s mission Society of St. Peter Apostle helps to do what it can, but resources are still often unavailable. Last year, for example, we could not send any support for the formation of 4,500 religious sisters and 2,400 religious brothers.
Life is not perfect in the missions. The Church there has its fair share of problems, difficulties and divisions. Nevertheless, the faith is strong and taking root despite these significant challenges.
This past summer, I met Bishop Christian Carlassare, MCCI, of Rumbek in South Sudan. There was an attempt on his life back in April of this year, just after he was named bishop. He is joyful, forgiving and optimistic — a hero to me. We often talk about religious freedom in the United States, but mission priests — in Nigeria, for example — sometimes serve in dangerous circumstances. Kidnappings, ransoms, violence and even murders are not far from the lived experience of some of our brothers.
The Pontifical Association of the Holy Childhood, or the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA), presents an opportunity for our children to help those far less well-off. Children in our schools and religious education programs can be missionaries right now. Maybe it is as simple as teaching our children to pray the Rosary in October using the World Mission Rosary popularized by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Perhaps they could even make and offer these rosaries for sale, donating the proceeds to fund homes for orphaned children, mission schools and other life-sustaining programs of MCA.
Possibly our most significant opportunity for pastoral conversion in our lives and our nation will come from the only pope’s mission society that does not collect any money: the Pontifical Missionary Union. Blessed Father Paolo Manna served as a missionary in Myanmar. In 1907, suffering from tuberculosis, he was forced to return to his native Italy. Upon returning home, he inspired priests to share in the work of evangelizing those places that had never heard the Gospel or that had just recently received the proclamation of the Gospel.
I fear that we in the United States may be failing the mission Church. In June, The Priest ran an article that indicated U.S. support for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith was $50 million. Unfortunately, that has not been the case for some two decades. Last year’s support was $19 million. The reasons are many and go beyond the pandemic.
Many priests and pastors loathe second collections; they are ignored or resented, taken up in a perfunctory manner or not at all. We do this because we are uncomfortable talking about money and feel like we do it too often. After all, we must pay for heating and air conditioning, roof repairs and the painting of buildings, school subsidies and employee insurance. We have little left over for others.
The trap of many of our fellow compatriots living in the 21st-century United States is self-preoccupation. Let us not turn inward, not move from crisis to crisis. Would the polarization in the life of the Church today be as intense if, instead of retreading so much of the same ground year over year, we focused our efforts on announcing the Gospel message to those still living in darkness?
The month of October is devoted to missions. We parish priests are called to be missionaries. We may be from a variety of dioceses — Brooklyn, New Ulm, Charleston, Lubbock, Salt Lake City, Miami — but our baptism and priestly ordination demand a missionary response. We cannot simply be content with what is happening at home, whether in our diocese or the United States. We must use the great privilege of freedom and wealth to support missions abroad.
Up until 1908, the United States was mission territory. Priests and religious arrived on our shores and shared the Good News. They catechized those without knowledge of Christ, baptized and confirmed them in the Spirit. They would often walk hundreds of miles, in the heat or in the snow, to hear confession, offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, solemnize the union of men and women, and comfort the afflicted and dying. We rightly admire the zeal of those pioneers. Let us redouble our efforts to emulate their sanctity!
Especially in this World Mission Month of October, I encourage us all to cultivate in our own lives and inspire in the lives of our parishioners a great love of the missions. When on that penultimate Sunday that we take up the World Mission Sunday collection, let’s ensure the generosity of our people’s prayers and almsgiving. The martyrs are dying in the missions, and the genuine conflict over religious freedom is playing out with dire consequences for believers, but so are miracles. Let us do our part. “Rise, pick up your mat and walk” are powerful words still uttered by missionaries today and words we may speak if we dare!
MSGR. KIERAN E. HARRINGTON was appointed national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States in May 2021. Prior to that, he had been rector of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph and vicar for communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn, overseeing the diocesan public information and affairs office and its government affairs and public policy office, as well as supervising NET, the diocese’s cable station, and The Tablet, the diocesan newspaper.
Three Foundations for the Life of Every Witness
Pope Francis, in discussing World Mission Sunday, called for three foundations for the life of every witness:
The first is to bear witness to Christ. Pope Francis said: “Every Christian is called to be a missionary and witness to Christ. And the Church, the community of Christ’s disciples, has no other mission than that of bringing the Gospel to the entire world by bearing witness to Christ. To evangelize is the very identity of the Church.”
The second key is to extend the Gospel message to the ends of the world.
The pope said, “Christ’s Church will continue to ‘go forth’ towards new geographical, social and existential horizons, towards ‘borderline’ places and human situations, in order to bear witness to Christ and his love to men and women of every people, culture and social status.”
The third piece is, “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit.” The pope said: “All Christ’s missionary disciples are called to recognize the essential importance of the Spirit’s work, to dwell in his presence daily and to receive his unfailing strength and guidance. Indeed, it is precisely when we feel tired, unmotivated or confused that we should remember to have recourse to the Holy Spirit in prayer.”