Pope Francis has designated October 2019 as the Extraordinary Month of Mission (EMM), a time for the Church to revive our missionary awareness and commitment. Like all missioners, I am looking forward to this celebration. When I was asked to write about this month for MARYKNOLL magazine, I was taken aback since I have been a missionary priest for only two years. But when I realized I was called to spotlight some of the work of Maryknoll missioners and the rich tapestry of the people we serve, I knew I had extraordinary things to say.
The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers have shared the Gospel and helped those on the peripheries of society for more than 100 years, and they continue to reach out to those in need, regardless of race, gender, religion or creed, in over 20 countries around the globe.
The Maryknollers I have met have taught me that a missioner is someone who reflects the love of God through service and inspires others to be the best version of themselves. Most importantly, we are motivated by our love for God. We can only do what we do by having faith and trusting in God’s Holy Spirit. Allow me to share some highlights of the work we do around the world:
In Asia, our ministries include parish work, faith accompaniment, interreligious dialogue, prison ministry, health programs, emergency relief, migrant ministry and outreach to victims of human trafficking.
In Latin America, Society members help those in need by providing safe living accommodations for women at risk of violence and trafficking, supporting restorative justice ministries, overseeing tutoring for children unable to attend school, strengthening faith communities, and providing pastoral and medical support.
In Africa, our missioners care for HIV patients and people displaced by civil war and challenged by food shortages and water scarcity. They do this mission work while offering Mass and the sacraments in growing parishes, and training lay leaders.Some of Maryknoll’s work in Africa includes pastoral ministries, tending to refugees and helping communities during food shortages.
We also serve in mission promotion and mission education in the United States to encourage the people in the pew to be involved in their own call to mission.
I am impressed by Maryknollers’ ability and willingness to accompany, work, cry, laugh and share in the Good News of Christ with those whom society has deemed worthless. Sometimes, as with Jesus, suspicion and rejection might be the “red carpet” that is rolled out to a Maryknoller when first arriving in the most destitute and suffering parts of the world. But legendary Maryknoll Bishop James E. Walsh once said, “Missioners go where they are needed but not wanted, and stay until they are wanted but not needed.” Such is the missionary vocation.
Last year we celebrated 100 years since Maryknoll missioners were sent to their first mission in China. During the celebrations, Superior General Father Raymond Finch talked about how co-founders Bishop James A. Walsh, Father Thomas F. Price and Mother Mary Joseph Rogers (who founded the Maryknoll Sisters) and all of the other first Maryknollers had “a profound awareness that mission is the life of the Church.”
“Their dream was to promote and enable the U.S. Church to assume its particular role in the universal mission of the Church and to bring the Good News to the farthest reaches of our world,” says Father Finch, who served in Bolivia and Peru for 38 years. “They pursued that dream in the face of many challenges and difficulties, but they persisted.”
(For more on the evolution of mission for the Maryknoll Society and all Maryknoll expressions, read our “Called, Sent, Transformed” article.)Some of Maryknoll’s work in Latin America includes healing ministries, education, and pastoral formation and leadership training.
As Father Finch says, mission has changed in the last century, but the essentials remain the same. It is about sharing the Good News, sharing our faith and life, looking beyond ourselves and responding to the needs of others.
“You can make a difference in a person’s life just one person at a time. That’s mission,” says Maryknoll Father John Barth, a missioner of 28 years who has worked with refugees in Cambodia, South Sudan and most recently Uganda.
Mission does not exist in a vacuum. And this truth is echoed in Pope Francis’ address for the upcoming World Mission Sunday on October 20th, “Our filial relationship with God is not something simply private, but always in relation to the Church… This divine life… [is] a treasure to be given, communicated and proclaimed: that is the meaning of mission.”
As I reflect back, I can see how my past interactions were ways God was forming me for mission. Witnessing the faith and example of my parents exhibited in tackling the challenges of a new culture and language after they immigrated to the United States from Korea to seek a better life for my brother and me helped me better relate to Vietnamese migrants in Taiwan during my training as a Maryknoll seminarian. My own struggles juggling my Korean and American identities helped me as a missionary priest in Hong Kong to relate to those who are in their homeland but disenfranchised from society. Conversely, the wisdom of those halfway across the world helped me relate with family and friends back in California.Some of Maryknoll’s work in Asia includes interreligious dialogue, relief work, faith accompaniment and migrant ministry.
We are called to go out, to be heralds of the Good News, to proclaim God’s love to all. But, as any Maryknoll missioner would tell you, mission is not one-sided. God calls us all to be Christ to others and to see Christ in others. “Mission is not so much about bringing God to the people we serve. God was there long before we arrived,” says Father Finch. “Mission is about sensing and pointing to the life-giving Spirit of God among the people we serve.”
“We foreign missioners helped to establish the local Church, but often the first evangelizers were the local Catholics who knew that to be a Catholic is to be in mission,” says Father Kenneth Thesing on the occasion of his 50th jubilee as a Maryknoll priest. “We build on the effort and stand on the shoulders of others who came before us.”
By the same token, mission is not limited to a geographical perspective. “I am a missioner every time I walk out of my room. When I go to the dining room, street, if I am meeting someone from a different ethnic group, another religion, another economic situation, I am always challenged to reflect the Gospel to that person,” says Father Joseph Veneroso, who served for 12 years in South Korea and continues serving the people of God in New York.Some of Maryknoll’s work in the United States includes mission formation, sharing the work of the missions and reaching out to youth.
Through our baptism we are all called to be missioners of God’s love. Each and every one of us, through God’s overflowing love and grace, is endowed with a unique set of gifts and talents. Mission is where the People of God come together to share our talents, appreciate the diversity of creation and reflect the love and diversity of the triune God.
When I was a seminarian, I often visited the assisted living wing of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Speaking with the senior missioners, I never failed to see the love for the people they served reflected in their eyes as they shared with me their missioner tales. Now that I have had a chance to work overseas, I am privileged to say that I know exactly what those missioners who have gone before me felt. And perhaps, God-willing, my turn will come when I will be sitting across from a seminarian or brother candidate sharing with him the tales of my missionary endeavors, with the same care, concern and love in my eyes.
Pope Francis reminds us of our calling to “propel a missionary transformation in our lives” and to be missioners wherever we go. Let us be a “Church in a constant state of mission” during this Extraordinary Month of Mission in October and beyond.
Featured Image: Maryknoll Father Daniel S. Kim blesses new altar servers at St. Mary’s Church in Kowloon. (N. Sprague/Hong Kong)