The Growth of the Young Faith in Malawi

When a white van pulled into the courtyard of Chitula Parish in the Archdiocese of Lilongwe, Malawi at the beginning of December 2023, the reception was so joyful, so raucous, that you could be forgiven for thinking that Pope Francis himself was about to step out!

Women in colorful matching outfits danced, sang, and chanted as the door swung open to reveal the visitors: a group of regular American Catholics representing The Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States (TPMS USA). Instead of deflating the crowd by our ordinariness, they got louder!

As we left the van, the crowd surged and surrounded us, leading us to a small building constructed of locally made and fired bricks. It was their church -- built years ago when they were still an outstation of another parish. They had long ago outgrown it but were so proud to show it to us.

The empty structure stood as a silent witness to the growth of the faith in Chitula.

We were introduced to Father Maxwell, the parish pastor, who apologized that only about a third of his parish had been able to put down their farm tools and join us for Mass. That meant a mere one thousand of his flock were present on that Wednesday afternoon!

Some plastic lawn chairs were set up (mostly!) under the shade of mango trees. Most were saved for the choir, the elderly, and special visitors. Everyone else sat on the ground. An aisle for the Mass procession was marked off with a "fence" of sticks lashed together; an archway made of bamboo stalks led the way to the sanctuary steps.

An elevated shelter was built over the altar. It was constructed of homemade bricks with tin sheeting for a roof -- evidence of the fact that the congregation expected to be worshipping outside for some time to come as they make more bricks, pray, and look for support from TPMS for next steps building their permanent church.

The first notes of the thirty-member choir turned all heads towards the back of the aisle as the procession was led by three altar servers, the first carrying a large wooden cross. They were followed by eight liturgical dancers dressed in green and white, who we would see many times during Mass. Next came three more servers and four priests!

During this time, the whole congregation sang and danced, praising God with a joy that brought me to tears. Their Mass was as each should be -- an upbeat, reverent celebration of our faith.

These are a people who have fought to build their church, and their Church. Help them: go to

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