Clarion Herald Guest Column by Father Jimmy Jeanfreau
I had the great blessing in July of being in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for the 5th Missionary Congress of the Americas. The congress happens every five years and has an even longer history as the Missionary Congress of Latin America.
At the congress, there was an incredible enthusiasm of people responding to our baptismal call to be missionary. St. Paul implies that only in mission does the church reach full maturity.
The talks were very inspirational, but the encounters with the people of every country in the Americas was truly the inspiration of the congress. Most were dressed in tradition or national garb and shared their faith and love with incredible enthusiasm.
Yes, there are incredible struggles and scandals that the church faces in Latin America, but like St. Paul we do not wait till we have all our problems solved to go forth in faith. For we go forth in the grace and power of Jesus Christ, not by our own power or righteousness.
The document “Ad Gentes” (To the Nations) from Vatican II was one of the most transformative documents of the council. It reflected on the church’s mission in and to the world. It invited us to see the people, cultures and religions throughout the world with solidarity and great respect. It also changed an age-old vision that it was only religious orders who were sent as missionaries. It affirmed in very strong language that all the baptized are sent forth as missionary disciples. To be baptized is to be missionary.
Jaricot: Pennies for the poor
In the early 1800s, a young woman, Pauline Jaricot, from Leon, France, served as a director of catechism and charitable works in a time of great opposition to the church after the French revolution. Her father had several factories in Leon, and she began to organize the workers in small groups (circles) to pray and offer pennies a day to support world missions.
Within eight years, the mission grew to such popularity that the pope himself took notice and formed the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. The first collections were sent here to Louisiana to support the infant and growing local church. Later, the pope declared World Mission Sunday to be celebrated throughout the world to continue forming a spirit of prayer and sacrifice for the church in mission. That remains the only special collection mandated by the pope himself.
Abraham and his descendants were not called to be simply a blessed people, but a people who brought blessings to all nations. The prophets continued to challenge the Israelites to be a light to all the world. Jesus is the fulfillment of this wondrous vision of God the Father, that all might be one.
The Israelites, the early church and we today find it very hard to embrace this vision. The first great struggle in the early church was the treatment of the Greeks and other foreigners who embraced faith in Jesus Christ. St. Paul had a famous fight with St. Peter over this very issue. We also face many of the same challenges in the world today. Thankfully, God never gave up on the Israelites, and the early church didn’t wait to iron out all its struggles before it went out to the ends of the earth.
Archbishop Aymond has asked us all to embrace Our Family Prayer to Our Lady of Prompt Succor and our archdiocesan synod, which both invite us not to see violence, murder and racism as afflictions happening to others but to our very family. They do not ask us to point accusing fingers or form feelings of guilt, but rather in a wondrous spirit of hope and faith to be open to the subtle movements of God leading us to an ever-deeper sense of unity and hospitality.
The issues of violence, murder and racism will be with us always, just as Jesus said of the poor. Mother Teresa never dreamed that the streets of India would be free of suffering and death, but this reality never stopped her from embracing those whom she encountered. I wonder if she ever got over the assault to her senses from the stench, brokenness and horror these encounters must have caused? I can only imagine that she had such a profound experience of Christ and his Father’s kingdom that any smell or horror paled in comparison.
I hear so many people speak of going on mission as what we will do for the poor, the other. We simply take this break from our normal lives to do a good deed for the other. How different our vision would be if we saw the world as an eternal community of God’s adopted sons and daughters?
Our Family prayer is a wonderful place to start. With the immeasurable loving power of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, we can begin to form more intimate relations with people of other races, our brothers and sisters who face horrendous violence every day, immigrants and others who are marginalized.
May this World Mission Sunday (Oct. 21) be a moment for us to join with Pauline Jaricot in offering prayer and sacrifice daily. May we begin to hear God’s subtle voice calling each of us in our own unique dignity and beauty to embrace our baptismal call to enter “Ad Gentes,” as the disciples heard Jesus’ last mandate to go out to the ends of the earth and invite all to hear the Good News and enter the community of the church, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Father James Jeanfreau is the director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies.