All are called to advance the Gospel at World Mission Sunday Mass
LOWELL -- Maureen Heil had two questions for those gathered at St. Michael Church in Lowell for Mass on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 23. First, she asked all missionaries present to raise their hands. Then, she invited all baptized people to raise their hands, revealing that the previous question had been a trick.
"If you're baptized, you are a missionary," Heil told the assembly.
Heil is the director of programs and development for the Pontifical Mission Societies of Boston, which includes the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The society organizes the annual Mass for World Mission Sunday, a worldwide celebration of the work of missionaries and the cultural diversity of the Church.
As people entered St. Michael Church, volunteers handed out World Mission Rosaries, which were blessed during the Mass, and prayer cards featuring Blessed Pauline Marie Jaricot, founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
The Mass began with a procession of flags representing different ethnic communities of the archdiocese. The celebrants were Father Christopher Lowe, the administrator of St. Michael Parish, and Father Kevin Sakwe Nanje, a priest in residence originally from Cameroon. Members of Lowell's other parishes -- St. Anthony, St. Patrick, and Holy Trinity -- were present, and some members of various ethnic communities came in their countries' traditional dress.
The Kenyan Catholic Community of Lowell provided music throughout the Mass, and the Cameroonian Women's Group sang and danced in procession to present the Book of the Gospels. The readings were proclaimed in Swahili and Spanish, and the Prayers of the Faithful were offered in Swahili, Polish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Cameroonian-Bangwa, and English.
Offering remarks before the homily, Heil read part of Pope Francis' message on the theme he had chosen for World Mission Sunday: "You shall be my witnesses."
Quoting the pope's message, Heil said, "Every Christian is called to be a witness and a missionary for Christ. And the Church, the community of Christ's disciples, has no other mission than that of bringing the Gospel to the entire world by bearing witness to Christ. To evangelize is the identity of the Church."
Heil noted that, in this context, "We are the Church."
"Some give up everything they know to go and bring the Good News to people who may never have heard it proclaimed, or may have heard it proclaimed and just not embraced it yet. Those are the people that the Society of the Propagation of the Faith supports every day. We are their lifeline," she said.
She pointed out that 2022 is the society's 200th anniversary, and spoke about the work of its founder, Blessed Pauline Marie Jaricot, who was beatified in May.
"She revolutionized the way our Church looked at how we support missionaries. She involved you and me, the laity," Heil said.
At the age of 18, Blessed Pauline began organizing "prayer circles" among the silk factory workers in her home of Lyon, France. She asked them to pray for missionaries and donate one penny every week to support them. Heil noted that two-thirds of that first collection went to the U.S., the largest mission territory of the time. Between 1829 and 1864, the Diocese of Boston received over $52,000 from the society, which today would be about $2 million.
"That's a lot of money, sacrificed by the Catholics of Western Europe so that we could have what they had: parish communities, Catholic education, Catholic healthcare, social services," Heil said.
She went on to explain that such work is still happening in over 1100 mission territories, across Asia, Africa, remote parts of Latin and South America, and island countries in the Pacific Ocean.
"We are there accompanying missionaries as they bring the Gospel, the Good News, to the people who live there," Heil said.
She shared short stories from her almost 25 years of working in this ministry. She recalled visiting Sri Lanka to deliver rice and beans to malnourished tea plantation workers; Ecuador, where the society funded the education of a man who then became a teacher for his community; and Uganda, where the society paid for a tin roof for a tiny mud-brick chapel.
"I'm here today to ask you to recognize the power of your own witness, in your home and your school and your office, yes, but also around the world. We need your help more than just on this one great day," Heil said.
She asked those present to do the same two things Blessed Pauline asked of people: pray for missionaries, and support them financially.
Father Nanje spoke briefly at the end of the Mass. He said it was "a day of thanksgiving, and a day to give up ourselves to be part and parcel of the mission of evangelization."
He talked about how missionaries brought the Word of God and fostered healthcare and education in his country.
"We also now are going out as missionaries. Maybe not displacing ourselves necessarily, but through these contributions. They are building schools, opening hospitals, feeding the hungry. That is a work (in) which all of us are involved," Father Nanje said.
More information about the Society for the Propagation of the Faith can be found at www.propfaithboston.org.