On October 22, the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday when we remember those men and women who have consecrated their lives to sowing the seeds of the Gospel around the world — by word and by deed. Not only are we called to support the work of the missions financially but also spiritually.
When this observance began, all the emphasis was on supporting the ministry of missionaries in Central and South America, Africa and Asia. Mission Sunday culminated in a special collection, the proceeds of which sustained the Propagation of the Faith, the pontifical department that oversees Catholic missionary activity in the world. Many of those missionaries haled from Ireland, France, Germany and the United States. Some of the religious orders such as the Maryknoll Fathers, Divine Word Missionaries, the White Fathers (now Missionaries of Africa), as well as the missionary branches of Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Salesians and Vincentians, often accompanied by dedicated religious sisters and brothers from sundry congregations, relied on the donations which accrued from parishes on World Mission Sunday in order to purchase “tools of the missionary trade”: Bibles, catechisms, articles of devotion, liturgical goods and medical supplies.
Now, many of those beneficiaries of the European and American missionaries in Central and South America, Africa and Asia entered the seminary or convent in their own countries giving way to an influx of native vocations. Upon ordination, these priests, brothers and sisters would gradually make the missionary presence obsolete. Still, the paradox of the Christianization of the aforementioned continents is that the countries once targeted for missionary activity now provide many parishes in Europe and North America with priests, brothers and sisters due to the shortage of these vocations. The “cradle of missionaries” (Europe and the United States) has, to a certain degree, become the new face of the missions.
What can we do to reverse this vocational shortage? First, we can encourage our sons and daughters if they begin to discern a possible vocation. Secondly, we can give generously in the special collection held worldwide October 22 so that the Catholic missionary presence, wherever it is found, will continue to do the work of evangelization, which is the primary mission of the Church. To evangelize, however, is not just introducing people to the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love. We “evangelize” by our good works but also through our prayers. In 2002, then Pope, [now Saint] John-Paul II declared, as he opened the jubilee year of the Rosary: “The Rosary reclaimed in its full meaning, goes to the very heart of Christian life; it offers a familiar yet fruitful spiritual and educational opportunity for personal contemplation, the formation of the People of God and a new evangelization.” Whether we feel more comfortable meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary alone or with others, in our cars, our homes or our worship site — St. John Paul II wanted to renew our interest in the Rosary. Why? “Through this path of contemplation, which marks the rhythm of human life, we grow in holiness. And, now more than ever, given the unstable political and economic climate in which we live, we need a healthy spirituality in our lives.” One decade at a time, God will hear our prayer. One mystery at a time, with Mary, we will develop a deeper appreciation for the expressive face of Jesus. One bead at a time, the Holy Spirit will help us to understand that, in the words of St. John-Paul II: “Christianity is, first and foremost ‘Good News’ which has as its heart…the person of Jesus Christ…the Savior of the World.” Father Glenn J. Comandini is Advisor to the Catholic Spirit.