You Have to Start Somewhere
Often, I wonder how people who have accomplished something momentous, like the founders of the Pontifical Mission Societies, ever got their enormous projects off the ground. Obviously, they didn't let the pressures of the day, or any cynics get in their way. They relied on God and just kept at it until their idea became a reality. All four founders are inspirational for their perseverance in the face of naysayers.
Blessed Pauline Jaricot was a teenager ignored by the many people who thought she should just sit down and be quiet (like most women of her day) when she had the idea to start Prayer Circles. These groups of ten people each would regularly pray and sacrifice for the missions. Undaunted, she was so committed to helping missionaries by involving everyday Catholics, that we follow in her footsteps 200 years later, doing the same to grow the Propagation of the Faith.
French Bishop Charles Forbin Janson returned from a two-year-long mission trip to the United States wanting to help the children he'd met. Imagine what his fellow prelates thought when he said he'd ask French school children to fund those needs! What on earth could children do? He suggested a Hail Mary a day and a penny a month for the missions -- the backbone of the Missionary Childhood Association. Today, we are still handing out Mite Boxes -- mission banks named for the sacrificial Widow's Mite -- teaching children about their own baptismal power to be instrumental in the spread of the Gospel.
Jeanne Bigard was a simple pen pal to a bishop in Nagasaki, Japan when he expressed the need for new books and supplies for seminarians. Could she help him with his school's problem? Sure, but why stop there? Jeanne and her daughter set about asking everyone they knew to contribute to a fund that would become the Society of St. Peter Apostle, supporting not just one, but every seminarian and novice in the missions.
Lastly, I look to Blessed Paulo Manna, a PIME missionary whose poor health sent him home to Italy from his beloved Myanmar. He decided if he couldn't serve in the missions, he'd teach everyone he could about the missions! He wrote articles and books, started magazines and newspapers, all with one goal: helping Catholics understand the importance of supporting the mission Church. His writing became the Pontifical Missionary Union.
I think the founders would like the little sign I have on my desk: Don't let the person who says it can't be done get in the way of the one currently doing it.
Just remember to rely on God -- and start somewhere.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.