Every Catholic—you, me, and even the newly baptized baby—is called to be a missionary. Jesus’ final words to his disciples were to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), sharing with them the joy of living the gospel. Pope Francis has called all of us to “missionary discipleship,” by which he means people who “go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.” Whether at home or across the world, all of us can show the love that God shows us first.
During this October that the pope has designated as Extraordinary Mission Month, we at Catholic Extension have the great privilege of celebrating stories of missionaries recognized by their dioceses as reflecting the light of Christ. They are all finalists for our annual Lumen Christi Award, whose stories inspire us to imagine the kind of world that Christ is building through the work of the Holy Spirit.
A good pastor accompanies 17 families grieving the shooting deaths of family members in El Paso, and strives to live out his priestly vocation ministering to a poor, wounded congregation.
A generous nun drives along lonely roads on a Lakota reservation in South Dakota, dedicating her life to service of this ancient and storied community.
A deacon leads a team of volunteers reaching out to mariners, away at sea for months, to provide pastoral and practical care while in port in Mobile, Alabama.
A couple of self-described “bald guys” begin a compassionate ministry to single moms in Jefferson City, Missouri, providing hope and a stepping stone to a new life.
A tireless former Army officer in Panama City, Florida galvanizes outreach efforts to serve people losing hope in the aftermath of a hurricane, preaching and living the gospel all along the way.
A group of Glenmary priests and brothers plant new churches in a region of eastern Tennessee where very few Catholics have lived until now, building community and transforming lives.
A Protestant pastor in Shreveport turns to the Catholic Church to start an innovative program of community renewal, and later becomes Catholic himself. His program has now spread to other cities and countries.
A young priest in Puerto Rico arrives at a parish a month after a devastating hurricane, and begins to rebuild his community.
A group of mothers and grandmothers in the Diocese of Laredo begin a hospitality ministry when they realize their religious education students are arriving hungry. Their small community recognizes them as “angels.”
A deacon-physician leaves his medical practice in order to begin a mobile healing ministry to poor families in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan, finding new freedom and joy in his profession.
A “cowboy priest” takes a stand for religious liberty, protecting an historic chapel where generations of his predecessors have ministered to families living along a border.
The stories that each of these missionaries can tell begins with listening to the needs of the people around them. In the case of the “Santa Monica Angels” from the Diocese of Laredo, it was the voice of hungry children. One of them, Maria Jaime, reflects on what her desire to reach out to them has mean to her: “When you decide to be at the service of the Lord, you want to be a little more like Him every day, and everything changes.”
Andy Cornett of Panama City echoes a similar sentiment: “When this storm happened, it's as if it was like the Pentecost for me. My fire just came alive. I saw a need and I saw a chance to help people and to show people the Holy spirit.” For missionaries, the opportunity to serve someone in need is the opportunity to practice the works of mercy in imitation of Christ.
What these stories hold in common is that need gives rise to service, which gives rise to hope and transformation. A priest friend in the Diocese of Ponce, Puerto Rico, described Father Omar Soto Torres’ impact: “Father Omar was able to bring hope to that bereaved community, working with this team, delivering humanitarian aid for almost a year.”
Steve Smith, who along with Mike Hentges began the home for single moms, observed “It is amazing what God can do with a little ‘yes’ from us.”
Father Tom Charters, one of the Glenmary Missioners in Tennessee, reflects on the call to be a missionary. His first message to the group that first responded to an invitation to form a new Catholic parish was simple: everyone must be on mission. “Unless you take what you’ve heard by the Word of God,” he told them, “unless you take Jesus who you’ve received in the Eucharist and go forth and carry it to others, it’s not worth it.”
These women and men have discovered the joy of the gospel through an awakening to service. Sister Barbara Bogenschutz, OP, serving on the Pine Ridge reservation, puts it simply and well: “Where I am, is where I am supposed to be.”
Of Extraordinary Mission Month, October 2019, Pope Francis wrote, “The theme chosen for the month is “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.” He continued, “through the mission of the Church, Jesus Christ himself continues to evangelize and act; her mission thus makes present in history the Kairos, the favorable time of salvation.”