A great blessing of this ministry is that many of the missionaries I meet become my friends. Although we exist in very different parts of the mission world -- they go, stay, and live the work, while I visit, experience it, and come home to tell their stories -- we feel a deep connection through our shared love of mission.
Father Timothy Lehane, SVD, is one of those people. I first met him when I made a mission visit to Ecuador in 2006. At the time, he was the National Director for the Pontifical Mission Societies for that country.
Father went on to become the International Secretary General for the Propagation of the Faith at the Vatican. He is now serving as Provincial for Ireland and Great Britain for his order.
He recently shared a memory of his missionary work in Ecuador with me.
"One evening, a knock came to my door," Father Tim began. "I opened it to find a meek, shy man. After a few smiles and the offer of water, we went on foot a few miles across the Andean hills to a hut made from mud and grass. 'It's temporary', he said. 'When she passes, I'll go back to our farm in the Amazon; our children are waiting. I came to see if we could do anything for her but the journey was too much.'
Father Tim continued: "Lit by the last rays of sun was his frail wife, drained by post-natal complications. We began to pray but she was too weak to join us. I searched for words to help her experience God's spirit of love. Then, something moved under the blanket.
It was her baby.
As I lifted his tiny body, I could see that he also was within his last moments of life. His cry was his last ode to a life weakened by extreme poverty.
Now, the words for which I searched flowed easily in the form of tears. My heart cried out as I took in the pain of that family. I wished I had some modern hospital, a professional team with me, but reality told me help was several hours away.
As I walked home, I began a new prayer: I asked for a better understanding of God's love in helpless situations. My tears accompanied me all the way back."
Most missionaries work in similar situations, showing God's loving care to those who meekly knock, asking for comfort. Because you help with your prayers and material gifts, you are there, too. Thank you for remembering them and for being a friend to the missions.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.