World Mission Sunday honors missions, reminds faithful of missionary call

SALEM -- While scaling back from the usual size of their annual celebration, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith continued its tradition of observing World Mission Sunday with a multicultural Mass, held this year at St. Anne Church in Salem on Oct. 24.

World Mission Sunday takes place each year on the second-to-last Sunday of October. The Propagation of the Faith, one of the Pontifical Mission Societies, organizes the annual Mass to honor the work of missionaries and celebrate the different cultures present in the archdiocese.

In an Oct. 25 interview, Maureen Heil, the director of programs and development for the Pontifical Mission Societies of Boston, explained that the event usually involves months of planning. Under normal circumstances, donors would be invited, members of different cultural communities from around the archdiocese would be present, and the liturgy would have readings and music in languages from every continent. But since the Delta variant of the coronavirus was spreading over the summer, the Mission Office was unsure whether they would be able to hold such an event in person when October came.

A solution came through Father Maurice Agbaw-Ebai, the administrator of St. Anne Parish in Salem. The parish was originally a French-Canadian community, but is now home to people from many countries. Father Agbaw-Ebai, who is from Cameroon, offered to livestream the 11 a.m. Mass on Oct. 24 for World Mission Sunday.

"He really stepped up for us when we were in a very uncertain time," Heil said.

Representatives of the parish's Cameroonian, Congolese, and Filipino communities were present for the Mass. Everyone in attendance received a World Mission Rosary, whose different-colored beads represent the continents of the world. Echoing a World Mission Sunday tradition, children carried the flags of their respective countries in a procession.

"We were so thrilled that the kids processed in with their own countries' flags. Even though it was a smaller procession and a smaller amount of countries, it still honored the tradition of the procession of nations," Heil said.

Father Agbaw-Ebai gave a homily on the meaning of World Mission Sunday and the work of the Propagation of the Faith. He emphasized that all Christians, through baptism, are called to be missionaries.

"The Mission Office of Boston makes it possible for all in Boston to live out their missionary vocation by helping to coordinate our generosity to the needy," Father Agbaw-Ebai said, recalling his homily in an email shared with The Pilot.

Although this year's World Mission Sunday Mass carried on the spirit of the day, Heil said they missed the usual size of the celebration.

"We missed the color and the majesty of bringing the world together in one place in the Archdiocese of Boston. We really missed it and we look forward to next year," she said.

While preventing them from visiting parishes and schools as much as they normally would, the coronavirus pandemic spurred the Pontifical Mission Societies of Boston to collaborate with other dioceses across the country. They created materials that could be shared electronically, including the poster for World Mission Sunday.

The poster this year features a picture of Capuchin Bishop DonaldLippert, a missionary in the diocese of Mendi, Papua New Guinea. Bishop Lippert has a unique tie to the Archdiocese of Boston: he was the first man Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley ordained to the priesthood, and later the first priest he ordained a bishop.

Heil visited Bishop Lippert herself in 2019. The Propagation of the Faith has been installing solar panels on diocesan buildings in that area, providing reliable electricity where the national electric grid sometimes goes out for days at a time. She said what she finds most impressive about the mission work there is when people come together for sacraments and special events.

"The missionaries have done a beautiful job of incorporating the true Gospel message in a way that the people in their own culture can absorb it, understand it, accept it, and make it their own without changing either their culture or the gospel," Heil said.

This year, one thing the Mission Office did differently in preparation for World Mission Sunday was to have its members personally visit parishes to drop off promotional materials. Heil said this gave them "a wonderful opportunity to meet people," from parish secretaries to pastors and priests in residence. She said they took this personal approach so that people in the parishes would not think of them as an anonymous email with bulletin announcements and prayer intentions.

"We really want people to not just see the materials but to understand that we're real people working really hard to spread the Gospel, and to support the missionary work of the Church, and we feel like we're in partnership with the people in the parishes," Heil said.

She expressed gratitude for their donors, who "stepped forward throughout this whole shutdown."

"We're incredibly grateful to all of them and we ask them to continue with their prayers and material support," she said.

More information about the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and the other Pontifical Mission Societies of Boston is available at