Joe Boland

Pope Francis does it again!

Just as we were settling back down from some of his latest headlining commentary, Pope Francis has us all talking again.

Yesterday the Vatican released arguably the first papal document that he fully owns as author.  It is an apostolic exhortation on the topic of evangelization, in which we hear the Pope lay out a vision for the Church that he has reflected on deeply. 

While we will all be digesting this document for some time, I was particularly struck in my first reading by Pope Francis’ eloquent description of his dream for how our Church can be at the service of the mission.  He says, “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything…”  See the full document on the Vatican’s website.

Given our century-old status as a papal society here in America, we at Catholic Extension cannot help but ponder the Pope’s words in light of our experience with Catholic communities in financially poor areas of our nation, where we have the privilege of witnessing the most brilliant displays of this ‘missionary impulse’ already at work in the church.  

At Catholic Extension we often describe what we encounter in the regions where we provide support as the “transformative power of faith.”  What that means is that the gift of faith is transforming not only individual hearts, or individual lives, but society as well.    Pope Francis speaks to this natural ‘spill-over effect’ of our faith on society: “no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life...”

If you want evidence of this transformative faith at work in society, then look no further than José & Digna R. López of the Diocese of Stockton, CA, who are Catholic Extension’s 2013 Lumen Christi Award honorees.  Among the thousands of heroic people and communities in Catholic Extension’s national network, José and Digna give particularly vivid witness to the Pope’s words that we as a people of faith must “regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing.”

José Lopez with a migrant farm worker. He is extending the Church to the periphery.

José and Digna are a normal, married, lay couple.  But, they are uniquely driven by the ‘missionary impulse’ that the Pope describes.  Through their various ministries they have impacted tens of thousands of people in northern California, including many at-risk youth.  The forces against the young people in their area are significant, including poverty, drugs, and pressure from gangs.  But thanks to these inspired people, many young people are discovering the richness of their faith: that life, love, and hope is what we are destined for; not drugs, violence and misery.  Additionally, José and Digna reach out to thousands of migrant workers who come to work the fields in the San Joaquin Valley.  Some of these transient people are so impoverished that they live in tents under the trees during the work season.  José and Digna help ensure that even if these migrants have no possessions or permanent homes, they at least have their human dignity.  

2013 Lumen Christi Award Recipients José & Digna R. López

Fr. Francis Kelley, a priest from the Midwest, and Catholic Extension’s founder had a great motto.  He said we have to “Awaken the mission spirit in America.” 

Like Pope Francis, Kelley was reminding us that our core identity as Catholics is that we are a mission-driven Church.   This missionary impulse is not a burden.  In fact, it is a tremendous gift, which brings us great joy. The pope says that “we become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?”

The founder of Catholic Extension, Fr. Kelley, spoke of “Awakening the Mission Spirit in America”

However, this work to transform the world in which we live requires us to take a bit of risk and to extend beyond our usual boundaries and comfort zones.  Pope Francis says, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

If you feel called to join this missionary effort to extend the Church’s presence into the “streets,” visit to learn about how your good works can be shared with Pope Francis.