Pope Francis convened an extraordinary mission month for October with the theme of “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.” The month honors the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s Apostolic Letter “Maximum Illud,” which emphasized the missionary call to proclaim the Gospel.
During October, Pope Francis invites all baptized Christians to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ through prayer, meditation on the Word of God and pilgrimage.
In a letter to parishioners, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson stated that Pope Francis “reminds us that we are each ‘Baptized and Sent’; we are all the ‘Church of Christ on Mission in the World.’”
Archbishop Carlson invites people to respond to the missionary call through charity, giving generously to the collection for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 20. The collection supports more than 1,100 mission dioceses across the world as they proclaim the Gospel, build the Church, and serve the poor. He also asks people to mirror the loving witness of missionaries.
‘He called me’
Teresa Fleming spent two weeks with a missionary organization in India a couple of years ago.
Afterward, though she still wanted to be with her family in St. Louis, have an air-conditioned home and go to the coffee shop down the street, Fleming realized that God chose her to be a missionary to share His love with people. She now volunteers in Haiti through Family Missions Company (FMC), an apostolate of lay Catholic missionaries, families and singles proclaiming the Gospel and serving the poor.
Fleming grew up in a Catholic family with strong faith. She attended St. Sabina School in Florissant and St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon. “God always came first before everything else,” she said.
After receiving an undergraduate degree from Columbia College in Columbia, Mo., she planned to attend the University of Louisville for graduate school. But first, she wanted to do a short mission trip and visited the nonprofit FMC offices in Louisiana. She was in awe with the joy she observed in the other missionaries. “And I wanted that joy,” Fleming said. “They were living out their faith like I’d never seen people live out their faith before.”
Fleming encountered poverty on a two-week trip to Kolkata, India. “I realized how far I was from Jesus. This relationship we’re all invited into with Christ I was seeing being lived out by the missionaries,” she said.
The people in poverty served by the FMC missionaries showed her love as well. “Just holding their hands — people who were sick and helpless — they were serving me as much as I could serve them,” Fleming said.
She also felt the call to reach out to those who do not have access to God and His love. When she decided not to return to school, she simply relied on her faith and His strength. “He filled me with complete peace,” she said. “He called me unexpectedly, which has been such a gift.”
After three months of training, Fleming was assigned to L’Asile, a mountainous region in Haiti. She learned Creole, the regional language, and has adjusted to the food and heat. The missionaries — seven individuals and a family of five — now have a new center for services and a new home. They’re just down the hill from the Catholic parish, and they work closely with the pastor.
They opened a nursing home last year with five residents, people they used to visit in tiny huts who had no one to care for them. Now, with the help of Haitian women hired to assist with the care, “they’re bathed, have three meals a day, receive catechism, sing songs,” Fleming said.
The missionaries also have a ministry to children. “We pass on a foundation of love in their lives, provide food and play games. We brought games and toys from the United States because they don’t have toys,” she said. “We spend a lot of one-on-one time with them.”
Fleming said funds for the ministries and prayers for the missionaries are needed. “We’re there to bring Jesus. He is truly our hope.”
Marianist Father Oscar Vasquez, provincial of the Marianist Province of the United States, recently returned from a Marianist mission in India, seeing poverty that he’d never encountered.
“People were crammed together, there were outlines of streets but no real streets,” Father Vasquez said. “You could see the needs. But in the classrooms, there was an excitement in the children’s lives and a gleam in their eyes that said ‘I’m at home, I’m happy and I’m being taken care of.’ That’s why we’re there. To help them understand they’re needed and they’re loved, and that together we can join hands and worship our God.”
The Marianists have a long tradition in Catholic education. “However, the work of the Marianists is the work of the Catholic Church,” said Father Vasquez, who has served at Our Lady of the Pillar Parish and Chaminade College Preparatory School in Creve Coeur in addition to other assignments.
Most recently, the Marianists have worked in India, Mexico and eastern Africa. They’ve also helped in Peru and other areas.
Catholics, he said, “follow the Gospel call to be of service.”
The Marianists help people develop a marketable skill to provide for their family, Father Vasquez said. They also help in the pastoral ministries in parishes and social efforts such as providing food and teaching parenting skills.
The visit to the missions in India helped Father Vasquez be thankful to God for his blessings and helped him see the reason for being there. “Our world needs our faith, our world needs our Church more than ever today,” he said.
The work of the missions is a partnership between the missionaries and supporters, Father Vasquez added. “You can help with your money, we help with the gift of our time and our lives. We invite you to be generous.”
Marianist Father George Cerniglia, associate pastor of Our Lady of the Pillar Parish in Creve Coeur, served on his community’s general council in Rome and visited missions in Africa, India and South America. He led a retreat in eastern Africa in May. “We try to work with the underprivileged, those who need our help the most,” Father Cerniglia said.
He cited a school the Marianists operate in a poor area of Nairobi, Kenya, with 2,000 students who are provided two meals a day. “They feel safe and at home, eager to learn there,” he said.
The Church has a growing presence in the southern hemisphere and needs support, the Marianist priest said. That can be done without neglecting people in need in our own country, he said.
Father Vasquez agreed, noting that the approach is to help them grow in their faith in their own, rich culture. Missionaries gain much from them as well, he said.
Sister Laura Rhoderica Brown is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international missionary community. It was founded in 1915 by Blessed James Alberioni to bring Jesus to the people through communications. The media apostles follow St. Paul’s role in showing that the Gospel has no bounds, Sister Laura said. “An apostle is one who is sent to bring Jesus to others, and that’s what we strive to do.”
Using media, they go “beyond the bounds,” she said, in avenues of communication. Their aim is to bring Jesus to a world that does not know Him, proclaiming Jesus to the ends of the earth.
Sister Laura works at the Daughters’ Pauline Books & Media in Crestwood.
The media is a powerful means of communication, she noted. A gift, “they’re neutral. It’s how you use it. We try to use it to promote the good, the truth and the beautiful. But we know there are many that don’t do that. They use it to pull people down, to corrupt the young and the list goes on and on. There’s lots of bad, but there’s lots of good,” she explained.
The Daughters’ presence extends to Kenya, Sister Laura noted, where a friend and fellow province member, Sister Jackie Jean-Marie Gitonga, made her perpetual profession in the community. A native of Kenya, she came to the University of Illinois-Champaign for graduate school about 10 years ago and met the Daughters of St. Paul there. “The Kenyan people are filled with joy,” Sister Laura said. “My heart was lifted” upon watching a video of the events surrounding the profession.
Experiencing other cultures is one of the benefits of being part of an international congregation, Sister Laura said. Their work is about bringing people together and showing them love, she added.
With the reach of the media, she said, “We go everywhere. It’s like the Holy Spirit.”
St. Louis mission
Father James Michler serves at Maria Reina Parish in La Paz, Bolivia. He is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and part of the Latin America Apostolate established in 1956.
“We continue to offer our presence and our love for the people in their suffering and need,” he said. “I’m glad to represent the city of St. Louis, and I’m proud to tell the people of Maria Reina Parish that the Church of St. Louis cares about what we are doing and what is happening in their lives.”
Father Michler added that “we are called to evangelize to all the ends of the earth.”
Bolivia has only one priest for every 25,000 Catholics. The apostolate provides formation, catechesis, social services and pastoral care — services that wouldn’t be offered without the prayers and sacrifices of the people of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The priests at the archdiocese’s mission parish in an impoverished area of La Paz, Bolivia, pack in a full day of visiting people grieving after a loved one’s death; blessing homes; walking the neighborhood and assisting homeless people; conducting marriage preparation classes and Marriage Encounter gatherings; celebrating Mass at the parish church and a dozen chapels; gathering with a youth group and senior citizens group; and much, much more.
Archbishop Carlson wrote in a message that it is part of the Church’s “commitment to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all nations. The Latin America Apostolate strives not only to meet the physical and spiritual needs of parishioners through the celebration of the sacraments, catechesis and formation, but the entire local community through the Maria Reina Health Clinic, the Lunch and Tutoring Program and other forms of community outreach.”
Through the years, 45 priests from the archdiocese have served in the apostolate. Women religious of various communities, including the Sisters of Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, have taught and assisted with religious education, provided health care and more.
Parishioners in Bolivia contribute to the parish — in an area of 60,000 to 70,000 Catholics — and serve as catechists and in other roles, but many have difficulties providing for their own basic necessities. Many spend long days working to earn a living. Bolivia ranks high in malnutrition and child mortality and low in terms of education and life expectancy.
“They love us for what we do,” Father Michler said. “You just feel like you’re called to be instruments of God’s love for people. We’re glad to be able to accompany people.”
A Mass highlighting World Mission Sunday
will be celebrated at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at Holy Infant
Church, 627 Dennison Drive in Ballwin.
For more information, visit www.archstl.org/october2019.
Pope Francis lists four dimensions to living more intensely the implementation of the Extraordinary Missionary Month:
• A personal encounter with Jesus Christ living in His Church: in the Eucharist, in the Word of God, and in personal and communal prayer.
• Testimony of missionary saints, martyrs and confessors of the faith as an expression of the Church scattered throughout the world.
• Missionary formation: biblical, catechetical, spiritual and theological.
• Missionary charity.
Catholics of the archdiocese have several opportunities to be missionary disciples. Included are:
• World Mission Sunday collection through parishes or online at www.archstl.org.
• The Daily Worldmissionnaires, a program in which members sacrifice and pray daily. The sacrifices are collected and sent to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
• Society of St. Peter the Apostle donations support the formation of priests and religious in mission countries.
• The Missionary Childhood Association for elementary children to pray and sacrifice, with a focus on children in mission dioceses.
• Latin America Apostolate, with missionaries Father Patrick Hayden and Father James Michler serving at a parish in La Paz, Bolivia.
• Pan y Amor, a program in which individuals sponsor homes or programs for children primarily in Bolivia but also in Colombia, Kenya and Uganda.
For information, call (314) 792-7655 or visit www.archstl.org/mission.