A Marathon of Our Own

Because I'm in Boston (the Hub of the Universe -- ask any native Bostonian), at this time of year, all things are focused on THE Marathon. Sure, there are 26.2-mile foot races in other cities, but the caché of Boston's is an all consuming one for locals. The city turns blue and gold, the colors of the race, during the run-up to Patriot's Day when we host the world's oldest annual marathon. Banners are raised, streets are painted, and businesses prepare for the deluge of tourists and locals alike.

Participants arrive in our city, hoping all their hard work will pay off and they will run the race of their lives. What most people don't see is the preparation that goes into the runners' presence. From finding the right gear, to the right training route, to having a great support system; there are so many angles to cover to be successful.

For those of us at The Pontifical Mission Societies, these days, we also feel like we are amid preparation for our own marathon of sorts: The Missionary Cooperative Program. This is the time of year when we assign missionaries to speak in every parish in our Archdiocese.

While it may sound simple, you might be amazed at how many details must be considered.

After reviewing hundreds of applications submitted to our office from around the world, we whittle it down to forty-five. We're careful to achieve a balanced mix of religious orders, mission dioceses, and lay mission organizations. Next, we make sure that all our parishes and collaboratives, especially those newly merged, are paired in an equitable way, so that each mission organization or diocese has a fair chance at educating approximately the same number of parishioners about the needs of their mission.

We check our history records. Did this parish have a speaker from Africa last year? Let's send someone from Asia. Was their speaker a religious? Let's assign a priest. We rotate a representative from our own Societies through parishes so that within five years, most places have heard from us, too!

Now, we are at the assignment stage and letters go out to pastors to let them know who their visiting missionary will be. Then, we notify the missionaries.

Think we've crossed the finish line? We're not even to Heartbreak Hill yet!

As we pray that all Boston Marathon participants feel welcomed by the crowds who cheer them as they race from Hopkinton to Boston, we entrust our visiting missionaries to Our Lady, Queen of the Missions. May the hospitality of our parishes prove to all that we are forever Boston Strong!

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.