Baptised and sent: celebrating the foreign missions and giving hope to the Church in Ireland today
As the Catholic Church's Extraordinary Missionary Month continues, Dr Aidan Donaldson highlights two major events this weekend and explains why mission is at the heart of the Christian life
DURING the Angelus Prayer on World Mission Sunday on October 22 2017, Pope Francis publicly announced to the whole Church his intention to proclaim October 2019 to be an Extraordinary Missionary Month, fittingly marking the occasion of the centenary of Benedict XV's apostolic letter Maximum Illud.
This most momentous letter, published on November 30 1919, took its inspiration from the command given by the risen Jesus to his disciples to "Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all mankind" (Mark 16:18).
And so throughout the history of the Church many brave and selfless men and women have done just that - bringing the Good News and hope to those in the margins.
The sheer scale of the Catholic Church's missionary activity is truly immense.
In many of the poorer regions in the world the contribution by Catholic missionaries - both religious and lay - in the areas of health care, famine relief, education and advocacy and justice is remarkable.
It is a story that rightly should be shared and celebrated. And it does come at a cost.
The self-sacrifice of those who have gone to the missions is almost impossible to comprehend. It means leaving home, family and friends and embracing a new world, culture and way of life.
Missionaries continually face enormous difficulties, challenges and dangers. They often encounter hardship and suffering during their life in the missions.
Missionaries can find themselves under risk of imprisonment, expulsion, torture and even death - through disease, oppressive governments or robbery - because of their work on behalf of the marginalised and voiceless.
Many return from a life of service in the missions with their health seriously affected.
The self-sacrifice of those who have gone to the missions is almost impossible to comprehend. It means leaving home, family and friends and embracing a new world, culture and way of life
Yet, despite the cost and self-sacrifice, those in the missions steadfastly continue their work in a spirit of quiet and unaware heroism and love.
The call by Pope Francis for all of us in the Church to make a special effort to acknowledge, celebrate and share the wonderful story of the work of missionaries is both prophetic and timely indeed.
Through encouraging Catholics throughout the world to recall and celebrate the wonderful contribution made by missionaries over many years, Pope Francis invites us to be part of the new evangelisation and develop as "missionary disciples" - people tasked to proclaim the Gospel with renewed energy and commitment wherever they find themselves.
This is particularly important today in the Western World.
Formerly centres of evangelisation and religious formation which sent men and women to the missions, countries in the so-called affluent world have now become missionary territories themselves - places in which people desperately need to hear the Good News and to experience hope and compassion.
Ireland - once known as 'the land of saints and scholars' - is today a society in which many feel abandoned, lost and alone as the pursuit of wealth and materialism brings a crushing spiritual poverty to all.
Pope Francis asks us to look at our missionary history and heritage and to bring that back into the core of our lives.
Ireland has a long and noble missionary history and tradition stretching back some 1,500 years to the days in which those such as Colmcille, Columbanus, Aidan of Iona and Brendan the Sailor spread the gospel message throughout Europe - establishing centres of learning, and schools, hospitals and hospices and whatever else they saw as building the Kingdom.
Following the lifting of the Penal Laws the last 150 years have seen a period of intense missionary activity as a small country on the western fringes of Europe has brought hope and transformation to millions of impoverished people throughout the world.
Pope Francis asks us to look at our missionary history and heritage and to bring that back into the core of our lives
Today there are more than 2,000 Irish men and women working in the foreign missions.
The response to Pope Francis's announcement of the Extraordinary Missionary Month has been hugely successful as the Catholic Church throughout the world reflects on the remarkable work which continues to be done in the missions - and considers how this missionary spirit can inspire the Church today.
Ireland is no exception. World Missions Ireland is coordinating events in dioceses, parishes, schools, communities, religious orders and congregations and other organisations throughout the length and breadth of the country.
In Down and Connor - a diocese which has a proud history of missionary activity and which still has numerous missionaries working in the Developing World as well as vibrant support networks - two major events are scheduled this weekend to mark the Extraordinary Missionary Month.
The first is a conference which will be held on Saturday October 19 at St Mary's University College, Belfast.
The theme of the conference is 'Baptised and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World - A Celebration of Down and Connor Missionaries Abroad and at Home'.
There will be workshops, facilitated by a range of experienced missionaries and support organisations, exhibitions and opportunities for participants to actively engage with one another as we seek new ways to support the foreign missions and the missions at home in the future.
The organisers of the conference are delighted to have three internationally renowned keynote speakers:
- Joe Humphreys is a leading Irish journalist and currently assistant news editor with The Irish Times. He has worked throughout the world writing on the Irish missionary movement and is author of the book God's Entrepreneurs: How Irish Missionaries Tried to Change the World.
- Fr Paul Kangkai is a priest of the diocese of Jalingo, north-east Nigeria and currently is working in Kinnegad Parish in the Diocese of Meath. Fr Paul has considerable first-hand experience working as a missionary in Nigeria in areas affected by the activities of the jihadist Islamic State organisation Boko Haram.
- Dr Lorna Gold is Ireland's most prominent social justice activist and expert on climate change, as well as Laudato Sí project coordinator with Trócaire. Dr Gold is on numerous NGO, Church and governmental advisory bodies combating the destruction of the planet. Her most recent book - Climate Generation: Awakening to Our Children's Future - is an international best-seller.
The second event will be a special Mission Sunday Mass at 2.30pm on October 20 in St Patrick's Church, Chapel Hill, Lisburn.
The theme of the Mass is 'Together We Are Mission'. The Mass is organised by the Down and Connor Apostolic Work Society and the main celebrant will be Bishop Noel Treanor.
- For further details email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pope Francis on missionary disciples
THROUGHOUT his papacy Pope Francis has urged all who wish to follow Christ to embrace the call to become 'missionary disciples' and to create a missionary Church as envisaged and initiated by Jesus himself.
In his proclamation of the Extraordinary Missionary Month Pope Francis calls on all Catholics to enter a new space and with a new sense of vocation, daring to go into the world and announce the Good News.
"All the baptised, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation... The new evangelisation calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptised," says Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 120.
"Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelisation; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God's saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
"Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are 'disciples' and 'missionaries', but rather that we are always 'missionary disciples'... So what are we waiting for?"