On October 22 we officially celebrate World Mission Day (WMD), which takes place on the last Sunday of October. Whether you are a priest, nun or layperson, we are all missionaries and are expected to evangelize. But what does it mean to be a missionary in the Catholic Church?
Pope Pius XI instituted Mission Sunday in 1926, and the first worldwide collection on Mission Sunday took place in October 1927 and continues today. The purpose was to pray for all the missionaries who left their homeland and went to many parts of the world to bring the Gospel to those who did not know Jesus Christ.
The day is celebrated in all local parishes "as a feast of Catholicity and universal solidarity". Christians recognize that we have a collective responsibility to evangelize the world and to continue the work of Jesus Christ, who, in his brief time on earth, "brought the glory of God to earth by "completing the work" that He entrusted to him. It was the greatest mission ever accomplished.
To understand World Mission Day, it is important to remember the founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Pauline Jaricot. Pauline was a laywoman from a small town in France whose vision would become one of the most important missionary organizations in the world. She was an "icon of faith. Upon hearing unfortunate financial news about a foreign mission in Paris, she took to the streets of Paris to raise money. He asked other Church members to offer weekly prayers and sacrifices for the Church's missionary work around the world. His charism sought to "help people live their missionary vocation." Like many, her legacy demonstrates the power of one person to transform the world. She is now Blessed Pauline.
Missionaries by nature
This year, the theme of Pope Francis for the World Mission Day was "Hearts on fire, feet on the move." The Holy Father expressed his gratitude and appreciation for all missionaries around the world, "...especially those who endure every kind of hardship." His message evoked the sorrow of Jesus before his death: "Dear friends, the Risen Lord is always with you. He sees your generosity and the sacrifices you make for the mission of evangelization in distant lands. Not all the days of our life are serene and clear, but let us never forget the words of the Lord Jesus to his friends before his Passion": "In the world you will have tribulations, but be brave: I have overcome the world' (Jn 16:33)".
Every baptized person is called to mission; Jesus Christ commanded that all his disciples go out to proclaim the Gospel. After all, our faith is "missionary by nature". But what does that mean? It may be different for each person. Bishop James E. Walsh, a missionary priest imprisoned in China in 1959, said, "The task of a missionary is to go to a place where he is not wanted but needed, and to stay until he is not needed but wanted." Sometimes, it is more than uncomfortable to remain committed to the truth, especially in the modern world. Missionary work is not always pleasant; it can be challenging. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, suggests, "We never miss an opportunity to evangelize." Let us take our calling seriously.
Return what was received
Omnes had the opportunity to speak with two Nigerian missionary priests who participated in the World Missions Sunday Mass. Father Valentine and Father Felix are part of the St. Paul Missionary Society of Nigeria in Houston, Texas. It was founded on World Mission Sunday 1977.
Father Valentine is the director of mission development for the Houston missionary society. He was grateful and joyful for the opportunity to express his appreciation for the Irish priests who went to Nigeria to bring the Gospel to their country. He fondly recalled how the Irish missionaries evangelized Nigeria and spoke of Nigeria's connection with Ireland. He said that the African Church is "grateful to play its part in the universal mission of the Church". He smiled, saying, "They came to us, and now we are going back to them."
Father Felix works in the mission office and agrees with his colleague: "We are giving back what we received. The missionaries did a lot in Nigeria, and we have received this faith. Now we are evangelizing, taking the faith we have received, not only to Africa, but also to Europe and, of course, to America." He accepts his call as a "privilege", "to participate in this action of the mission of Christ and of the Church...".
The Church, a family of missionaries
Everyone has a missionary vocation, and perhaps for lay people, it could start with extending an invitation to a friend, classmate, co-worker, neighbor or stranger to attend Sunday Mass. Or volunteer at the local parish. There is always an opportunity to catechize. Bring prayer cards with you so you can hand them out. Encourage someone to read Scripture or go to Penance. And remember what St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words."
We are part of a "worldwide family, a worldwide prayer network," and it is the most prestigious club because its members have the best road map for navigating the sometimes bumpy terrain of life, and that is the Word of God, so celebrate the missionary in you!