In 1926, Pope Pius XI instituted World Mission Sunday for the whole Church. That day is celebrated as the feast of catholicity and universal solidarity so Christians around the world will recognize their common responsibility for the evangelization of the world. This year, World Mission Sunday is Oct. 18.
“In this year marked by the suffering and challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pope Francis said in his May 31 World Mission Sunday message, “the missionary journey of the whole Church continues in light of the words found in the account of the calling of the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here am I, send me’ (6:8). This is the ever-new response to the Lord’s question: ‘Whom shall I send?’
“This invitation from God’s merciful heart challenges both the Church and humanity as a whole in the current world crisis,” the pope said. “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat … are all of us.”
Across the next few pages are words of prayer, stories of hope and expressions of faithful devotion to bringing the Gospel to all ends of the earth.
The following are excerpts from recent correspondence between missioners and Mission Office staff.
Crosier Father Kambale Sambya Zawadi Jean-Marie
Democratic Republic of the Congo, currently staying with the Crosier Fathers and Brothers in in Onamia, Minnesota
“During this time of the pandemic, I share with people the experience that I lived in the Congo where we had Ebola. At that time, I realized that people had different opinions about the Ebola outbreak. My suggestion was always that we should pray and follow what the medical professionals were saying in order to prevent the epidemic
“Personally, living in a community has been a great support during this time of the pandemic. Although we are blessed to live together, this year is not like other years for my mission here in the USA. Everything has been disturbed because of the pandemic. Every year, I do mission preaching in different dioceses across the United States. I tell stories about our missions in the Congo and Indonesia. However, because of COVID-19, I am not able to preach for the missions in person this year. Instead, I must rely on technology to help us with this effort.
“When I do mission preaching, I let people know about the international work of the Crosier Fathers and Brothers. I help people to understand how our Church is universal. All of the funds received from mission preaching are sent to sustain Crosier religious life and ministries around the world where we serve the people in great need.
“For example, we provide scholarships to 40 students from very poor families who would otherwise never have a college education. We buy medicine for our listening center, which welcomes people who have been traumatized, provide quality education for our schools and provide housing for street children. Now we are building a new Crosier Catholic school in the Congo for 1,600 children.
“Pope Francis has announced the theme for this year’s World Mission Day to be: ‘Here am I, send me’ (Isaiah: 6:8). These words mean a lot because when I made my first profession, I used these very words from the Prophet Isaiah, ‘Here am I.’ During the celebration, I sat between my father and my mother. When our superior called me for profession, my parents accompanied me toward the altar and left me there after I responded: ‘Here am I.’
“In my culture this gesture means a lot. It means to my parents that they have given me to the Church and to the work of our Lord. And now because of saying yes, I am serving the Church here in the United States, especially in the Diocese of St. Cloud. The day I said these words in 2004, I couldn’t imagine that I will be a missionary to the people who brought us the Gospel. I am proud of being a missionary in the Diocese of St. Cloud and serving our Church as a Crosier.”
Maryknoll Father Bob McCahill
Bangladesh (Note: Father McCahill’s answers are brief as he must relay them through a third party.)
“Mission work has to take into account COVID-19 these months. My response to the call to mission is as before: Use me. Here we travel in trawlers, i.e., fishing boats having engines we heartily pray will not falter and cough while we cross the choppy Meghna River. Amidst lockdown, a disciple can continue to be useful to the poor provided she or he wears a mask, maintains social distancing and often washes hands. In Christ we have our peace.”
Iris and Glahecer Baque
“We have been missionary-formers of ecclesial base communities for 31 years in the Evangelizing Community, Association of Faithful Missionaries, founded by Franciscan Sister Joan Gerads of Little Falls and Maryknoll Father Tomas Maney 45 years ago.
“We have three children: María José, José Miguel and Juan Francisco. We have lived and served in Ecuador since 2013. We also have lived and served in Peru, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela and Houston, Texas.
“In our service, we go to the poorer neighborhoods of the parishes to strengthen evangelization by forming a missionary team to help in parish evangelization to other sectors, and we help neighbors from the Gospel practice solidarity love of each other in the style of the first evangelical communities. We encourage them to improve their environments by giving them tools, based on the social doctrine of the Church, and fight for their social and civil rights. These communities met once a week for an hour in their neighborhoods to share the word of God and through it improve their relationships as neighbors and family.
“We moved from city to city within Ecuador. In May, we were going to serve a community in the Ecuadorian Amazon for three years in the Apostolic Vicariate of Aguarico. That was the service we provided before the pandemic. From March 20 until today we have been confined to our house, since the Ecuadorian government closed the country (and communications between cities and within the same city) in addition to prohibiting meetings in the houses.
“Like all of us, we have had to reinvent ourselves on how to serve, how to help communities, how to accompany them in their grief as many families are losing their members. Having lost their livelihoods, we accompanied the brothers and sisters on the phone, teaching them to meet on WhatsApp or Zoom, preparing materials to encourage them in their meetings and make the minutes of the meeting profitable. We are also serving Venezuelan migrant families who have become unemployed by teaming up with people who can help.
“Pope Francis tells us for this time, ‘Here am I, send me,’ [and these words are the compass guiding] our lives and the mission of our Evangelizing Community, of going to places where there is a need to share his word and that people meet the loving and merciful God and often find relief from their lives growing in faith.
“We know that we are in this boat and that we go together helping each other little by little and we will surely come out of this pandemic strengthened in faith, hope and love.
Imagine the scene
Feel the sand under your feet by the lake and the breeze against your face. See the crowds on the shore listening to Jesus. You hear familiar words: mercy, peace, forgiveness, love. See Jesus get into the boat. You step in with him. You feel the boat move from the shore, rocking gently. You sit next to Jesus. Those words again: mercy, peace, forgiveness, love.
Feel the nets in your hand as you help Peter lower them after Jesus says, “Put out into deep water.” You grab Peter’s arm as the boat tilts to one side. Feel the weight of the catch as you hold the net tightly now. Fish everywhere. You can feel them at your feet and smell them. You look at Jesus, a smile on his face, enjoying the moment.
In the mess of fish and nets, you see Peter fall to his knees before Jesus, who reached out his hand and touches Peter’s bowed head. “Everything is going to be all right. No need to be afraid.” And then Jesus turns to you. Look into his eyes. Hear his voice. “Do not be afraid.” Deep peace now, stillness. You speak to Jesus from the heart.
But then the boat hits the beach as it comes to shore. You step into the cold shallow water. You look back at the fish and the nets as the sun rises higher. No one else is in the boat now.
You remain still for a moment, not sure where to go. You raise a foot from the water and step on dry land.
Jesuit Father Kevin O’Brien