One of my favorite parts of this ministry is speaking at parishes, giving mission appeals. Speaking at every Mass in a parish that (most times) I have never attended is a great experience for so many reasons.
The best one? Sharing the stories of the missions with local parishioners and connecting them to people they may never meet and places they may never visit. I try to paint a picture with words of the beautiful children, the mud-brick chapels, and the growing faith that is the young Church of our world.
Last summer, while doing one of the few mission appeals that I could, I told the story of Josephine, a catechist in eastern Zambia. I met her at Saint John the Baptist outstation.
When we think of a catechist, we may picture our parish volunteers who give of their time and talent to pass the faith on to our children in Faith Formation programs. In the missions, the job can be quite different.
A mission catechist will go through years of training, sometimes even leaving their home to live at a training center to attend daily classes in basic theology, liturgy, and pastoral care. When they graduate, they are assigned to at least one, sometimes multiple, "outstations" of their own parish: small rural communities of Catholics that live too far from the home parish to travel to it regularly. The catechist brings the faith to them. They run Liturgy of the Word services, faith formation classes for children and adults, and prepare people for the sacraments. All this is done for no salary.
As I greeted Josephine, the priest I was traveling with explained who I was and what my ministry was. Josephine sank to her knees and cried in thanksgiving.
The Propagation of the Faith had provided funding for a bicycle -- $200 -- that allowed her to ride the twelve miles between her assigned outstations. It was my great honor to receive her gratitude on your behalf.
After that appeal weekend, I received a lovely note in the mail. Someone in attendance had gone home and told the story to her 96-year-old father. Enclosed was a check for $200, with the request that I send it to the priest I had mentioned to buy another catechist a bicycle. A few months later another check arrived for the same purpose. Pictures of gratitude arrived this week.
A story was told, a need was expressed, and a connection was made. And thanks be to God, with your help, the mission Church continues to grow.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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