Lenten sacrifice can help children in the missions

BRAINTREE -- With Ash Wednesday approaching, the Missionary Childhood Association of the Archdiocese of Boston is hoping schools, parishes, and individuals will use the organization's Mite Boxes to put their Lenten sacrifices to work helping children in the missions.

Named for the parable of the "Widows Mite," which tells the story of a small donation with a great significance, Mite Boxes are simple cardboard boxes that can be used in schools or parishes as "piggy banks" that are filled with donations throughout the season. When full, they are sent back to the association to help in its work providing both spiritual and material aid to children in the missions throughout the world.

"Every day, somebody can say 'You know what, I'm not going to get that bag of chips at lunch today, I'm going to put (the money) in that classroom bank so that there's a kid in the world that can eat today,'" she said.

"Every parish and school kind of puts their own spin on things, and that's the best part of this, when the kids really take ownership of this," said Maureen Heil, director of Programs and Development for the archdiocese's Pontifical Mission Societies, speaking to The Pilot Feb. 17.

For example, at Our Lady of Lourdes in Brockton, part of the Tri-Parishes of Brockton, Mite Boxes were blessed and distributed during a recent children's Mass.

In many places, the Mite Boxes are used not just in Lent, but throughout the year.

At St. Rose School in Chelsea, Heil said, students set up a table at the school's Christmas Bazaar where they sold their own toys to raise money for the missions. In the classrooms, they also have "their own oversized Mite Boxes, they have classroom banks, and they go around once a month and collect the money and put it in their big Mite Box, so it's not just a once and done with the little Mite Boxes."

"So, when kids take it over, it becomes very exciting," she said, noting that it also connects with the organization's motto of "children helping children."

Children are also able to get involved through the organization's monthly materials, which are sent out to subscribing schools, parishes, and households.

For Lent, said Heil, a daily calendar was sent out that asks people "to pray for specific places in the mission and a need that they might have," to read verses from the Bible, and to sacrifice while keeping in mind a certain theme of a mission.

Heil used the example of the theme of children in the missions in Uganda.

Children in Uganda might have to walk to get clean water, so "walk around your house, count how many faucets for water that you have, and then put a dime in your mission bank... do your Lenten sacrifice in honor of those kids," she said.

"So, in that way, you're kind of walking in solidarity with them, and then hopefully helping them achieve their goal through our mission programs."

Currently, there are 1,121 mission territories or dioceses that receive aid through the Mission Societies, and the Missionary Childhood Association specifically benefits children that are 14 years old or younger from these missions.

The focus of the Mission Societies is to evangelize, but Heil said material assistance is given, too, and the Missionary Child Association might provide "anything that a child would need; anything from heath care to education materials to structures, schools."

"When a missionary goes in, it is to evangelize, it is to do the spiritual works of mercy, but they have to do corporal works of mercy, too, because how do you preach the Gospel to people who are hungry, illiterate, uneducated, sick, (or) whatever it happens to be. We need to be there with those tools as well," she said.

The Mission Societies "are a vehicle to help people not only live their own faith, but to help spread the Gospel to other people who may never hear it, both in word and in deed," she said, adding that sociologists estimate around 1 billion people have never even heard of Jesus Christ.

As Catholics, then, is that it's "imperative that we do not keep (faith) inside ourselves," she said. "We need to be reaching out to the world."

Mite Boxes or the monthly materials may be requested by going on the archdiocese's Pontifical Mission Societies' website, www.propfaithboston.org, or by emailing Maureen Heil at mheil@propfaithboston.org. Online donations may also be made through the website.