A Lesson from the Missions

Though the mountains fall away, and the hills be shaken, My love shall never fall away from you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you. (Is 54:10)

On March 12, 2023, Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit the southeast African country of Malawi. It dumped six months' worth of rain on parts of the county in just six days causing massive flooding and never-before-seen landslides. Whole villages of people were swept away. Ready to be harvested crops were lost along with farm animals. The electrical grid was knocked out. Bridges were destroyed; a local water supply was redirected by rocks and mud, making a former river a bare trickle. Where there was once fertile topsoil, there is now arid sand and rock.

The mountain fell away, and the hills shook.

On December 8, 2023, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, my colleagues and I from The Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States (TPMS USA) sat in a simple rural church that had been spared damage by mere meters. We were there to bear witness to the cyclone's destruction, show our solidarity with those who survived, and to deliver aid donated by American Catholics. We came with a promise -- that we would carry home the message that the people of the area still suffer greatly and need our prayers and support.

Since we were travelling with a few priests, it was no surprise that we would be able to celebrate Mass on the Holy Day. As we sat in prayer before what I assumed would be our own liturgy, I was a bit taken aback to see the people begin to file in. At first, just a few. By the time our celebrant took to the altar, there were more people assembled than would have been in my home parish that day.

There were no musicians, but the music seemed to come from heaven itself. Compared to the normally boisterous, joyful African Church music, this was soft, muted. The local faithful who had lost so much sang praise to our God in quiet harmony. It was incredibly poignant.

In my twenty-five years of service to TPMS, travelling to mission sites on every populated continent, I have never been as moved at a Eucharistic celebration as I was that day.

In the face of their devastating burdens, they remembered the promise.

'My love shall never fall away from you nor my covenant of peace be shaken.'

The people of the missions and their steadfast faith have much to teach us.

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