More than 7,000 miles away from his home in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Father Chris Seiler sees World Mission Sunday from a new perspective.
Father Seiler is the secretary of the apostolic nunciature in Angola, a country in southwestern Africa, and São Tomé and Príncipe, a neighboring island nation. He works with the apostolic nuncio — the pope’s ambassador — to distribute funds from the Pontifical Mission Societies in the countries’ 20 mission dioceses, witnessing firsthand the evangelizing work the funds support.
“It’s important to realize that we’re united to the whole Church, and there are places where the Gospel has not been there for hundreds of years, but maybe more recently arrived,” he said. “And there’s places where people still haven’t heard the Gospel. I think it’s encouraging and helpful for our own faith to remember that and to pray for that.”
The Archdiocese of St. Louis will join with Catholics worldwide on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 22, to support priests, religious and laypeople proclaiming the Gospel, building the Church and serving the poor in more than 1,100 mission dioceses around the world.
The theme for World Mission Sunday this year is “Hearts on fire, feet on the move,” inspired by the Gospel story of the disciples who met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. “One cannot truly encounter the risen Jesus without being set on fire with enthusiasm to tell everyone about him,” Pope Francis said in his message for World Mission Sunday. “Therefore, the primary and principal resource of the mission are those persons who have come to know the risen Christ in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, who carry His fire in their heart and His light in their gaze.”
We’re called to embody this theme as missionary disciples, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski wrote in his letter for World Mission Sunday.
“I urge you to keep your hearts aflame and your feet moving this World Mission Sunday so that everyone may come to recognize Jesus in the Word and Eucharist,” he said. “Your prayers are invaluable, and your financial support provides life-giving aid to our brothers and sisters around the world.”
World Mission Sunday collections benefit the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, a Pontifical Mission Society that focuses on projects that directly impact evangelization, Father Seiler said.
In Angola, a single parish often covers a wide territory, necessitating the use of “centers,” or small chapels spread throughout the countryside. The parish priest may not be able to reach every center every Sunday to celebrate Mass, so lay catechists will use the space to lead a Liturgy of the Word service. Funds from the mission collections often help build better chapels “to have a dignified place for the people of God to gather to worship and be impacted in the faith,” Father Seiler said.
Other projects include building formation houses for religious communities and funding training for more catechists to serve as teachers of the faith.
“One diocese requested money to be able to buy 20 dirt bikes, so the catechists would each have their own dirt bikes so they can get to more communities on Sunday instead of walking,” Father Seiler said.
Angola is a majority Christian nation with a large Catholic population, so most people have at least heard of Jesus, and many already have a relationship with Him, Father Seiler said. One big challenge is having the resources to reach people all across the country to help them deepen their faith.
“Pope Francis always says: The Church wants to be close to her people,” Father Seiler said. “So I think one of the big challenges here is, how do we continue to have more priests, more catechists, more people who can be in the villages where people are so they feel the Catholic Church is close to them, and they can experience the presence of the Church very concretely where they live?”
He recently visited a parish in the northern province of Angola where the bishop had requested funds to build a church. “You see that people are so proud, and it means so much to them to have the presence of God’s house in their midst,” he said. “They’ve contributed to it as well, but then there’s been assistance that helped them build something concrete for the presence of the Church there.”
Living in mission dioceses and witnessing the mission efforts firsthand has made Father Seiler reflect on his own efforts to spread the Gospel, he said.
“It is so often an inspiration and makes me reflect on, what sacrifices am I concretely making to help other people know the Lord and build up the Church?” he said. “It also makes me realize that the little bit that we each can do really makes a huge difference. Even if we don’t see the fruits in our own lifetime, we’ll see it down the road.”
Living in St. Louis, it can be easy to forget that mission dioceses even exist, Father Seiler knows. But he wants to assure the faithful in his home archdiocese that the mission collection funds “are the real deal,” he said. “If you’re thinking about, how can I make a little contribution to help those who are less fortunate than I? For the evangelizing mission of the Church, the little bit you can give goes a long way in terms of helping facilitate the evangelists’ work in Angola and in other countries.”
World Mission Sunday
All are invited to a special World Mission Sunday Mass celebrated by Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, at Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie.
>> How to give
Donate in your parish collection, online or in-person, or visit stlreview.com/3FamacL
>> Where does your World Mission Sunday gift help?
•26 million children in primary school
•844,000 catechists teaching the faith
•38,140 seminarians receiving an education
•258,540 Sisters caring for families
•8,750 homes for orphans and the elderly
•12,000 health clinics in rural areas