World Mission Sunday: Taking the Gospel to very ends of the earth
In 1926 Pope Pius XI instituted Mission Sunday for the entire Church. World Mission Sunday will be celebrated this year on Oct. 21 and a special collection will be taken in dioceses throughout the world.
World Mission Sunday is a day set aside for all Catholics to recommit themselves to the Church's missionary activity through prayer and sacrifice. Mission dioceses – about 1,150 – depend on annual subsidies from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and on the prayers and support of all of us. These mission churches provide a spiritual home for the poorest and most vulnerable, and provide the sanctifying grace of the sacraments. To those living in challenging circumstances, missionaries share the Lord's message of salvation, hope and peace. In the missions, some 80,000 seminarians are currently preparing for the priesthood, and another 10,000 are in formation to serve as religious sisters or brothers. Some 10,000 orphanages provide safe shelter to children, and many thousands of medical clinics care for the sick and dying. Mission dioceses submit requests to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples for assistance. World Mission Sunday reminds us that the Church is catholic – universal – and that we have a responsibility to support the missions throughout the world.
As the diocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, I am in contact with missionaries throughout the world, usually through mail or e-mail. I also serve on the national board that puts me in contact with other diocesan directors and various bishops. I am inspired as I learn of the struggles and joys of some of the missions of the Church. Over the summer, a couple of mission priests visited our parish. One priest was from the Diocese of Tuticorin in southern India, and the other was from a mission region in the Congo. While these mission priests serve in different parts of the world, they both shared with me their joy of serving the Lord and the faithful. Both also related the limited material resources of their own dioceses and their appreciation of mission collections.
I have had the opportunity to visit foreign missions as well. It was a blessing for me recently to meet the priests, religious and laity during three visits to the jungle region of Peru, in the Apostolic Vicariate of Pucallpa. I concelebrated a Mass in this humble chapel and baptized six children. The chapel was materially very simple – rough planks over a dirt floor – but the faith of the parishioners was sincere.
I have also seen the missionary spirit in our diocese. Last year, parishioners donated $283,000 to assist various missions. In addition to our support of World Mission Sunday, 53 parishes and missions were assigned to participate in the Missionary Cooperative Plan and our diocese hosted 41 different mission dioceses and religious congregations this year. Several parishes support missions in other parts of the world and many priests and lay persons have traveled on mission trips.
Worldwide, more than $100 million is donated on World Mission Sunday, with some 120 nations participating. U.S. Catholics donate about 30 percent of that total. One diocese in the U.S. – Fairbanks, Alaska – receives funds from the universal collection.
The office of the Pontifical Mission Societies notes that "every year the needs of the Catholic Church in the Missions grow – as new dioceses are formed, as new seminaries are founded as young men hear Christ's call to follow Him as priests, as areas devastated by war or natural disaster are rebuilt, and as other areas, long suppressed, are opening up to hear the message of Christ and His Church." We know that all of the baptized share in the continued mission of the Church.
In his message for this year's World Mission Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI wrote the following:
"This year the celebration of World Mission Day has a very special meaning. The 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council and of the opening of the Year of Faith and of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the New Evangelization contribute to reaffirming the Church's desire to engage with greater courage and zeal in the 'missio ad gentes' ('mission to the nations') so that the Gospel may reach the very ends of the earth.
"The mandate to preach the Gospel, therefore, for a pastor does not end with his attention to the portion of the People of God entrusted to his pastoral care or in sending out priests or lay people 'fidei donum' ('gift of faith'). It must involve all the activities of the particular Church, all her sectors, in short, her whole being and all her work."
Father Mark Lawlor is the diocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.