Delivering the message of God’s love near or far is everyone’s mission
By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor
“The Church is either missionary or she is not faithful to the Gospel.”
— Pope John Paul II
to the National Directors of the
Propagation of the Faith, May 1986
The office of Sister Judith Markert, CSJ, looks much like any other office, with its computer, desk and files. But it is the art on the walls that represents the real work being done there.
There is a painting of a group of bald and shaven men seated, cross-legged, before woven baskets of red berries and fish. They all wear white togas, some wear red beaded necklaces, one wears an arm cuff. It is a painting of the Last Supper as imagined by an African artist.
There are paintings of African animals in the wild; there is a brightly-embroidered wall hanging from Peru; there is a woven straw picture of a parrot made in Dominica.
The pictures stand as a testament to the effect of the Gospel message as it is shared across the globe.
Sister Judith has been working in the office for the Propagation of the Faith since Nov. 1, 1988. The office fosters mission awareness in the diocese and organizes mission appeals to help support this mission work. Sister Judith currently serves as the office’s coordinator, working under the direction of Father Joseph Phillips.
“It’s really a lot of clerical work and record-keeping,” Sister Judith said. But she helps to spread the Gospel, and the importance of mission work, by coordinating the speaking engagements for missionaries who visit the Syracuse Diocese during the summer months.
Sister Judith also helps to coordinate the four main mission appeals that take place during the year, including World Mission Sunday, which occurs on the second-to-last Sunday in October, the Christmas Appeal, the Lenten Appeal (which are both direct mail appeals sent out from a national office) and the Missionary Cooperation Plan. It is this final appeal that sponsors missionaries who come to parishes in this diocese to share their experiences.
“There are missionaries from men’s religious communities, from women’s religious communities, from mission dioceses,” she said.
“We give special consideration to the dioceses represented by the African priests who are ministering to our diocese. They’re giving us service and we’re giving them support.
“A missionary is one who spreads the Gospel message to those who have not heard it and spreads the message of the gospel in the areas of the world that have not heard about the love of God,” she said. “What makes a good missionary is they have to love what they are doing, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to continue. They have a passion.”
Genevieve Mougey, associate director of operations for the U.S. Catholic Mission Association in Washington, D.C., said this passion for mission work is something that all Catholics should foster within themselves.
She doesn’t hesitate when asked what makes someone a missionary. “Baptism,” she said.
“We’re born into our identities as missionaries so everyone is serving in mission or should be serving in mission,” she said.
Her organization supports missionary work both nationally and internationally, and it releases regular statistical reports, called handbooks, that provide an overview of mission work throughout the world. The 2010 handbook will be released this week.
The statistics in the handbook rely on “self-reporting,” in other words, the information sent in is voluntarily collected by the various mission organizations. “It’s not as comprehensive as we’d like because the reality is that missionaries are very busy, obviously,” she said.
Still, one interesting trend revealed in this year’s handbook is that the number of lay missionaries is on the rise. This includes both short-term immersion experiences and long-term mission work, Mougey said.
Mougey said that missionary work might still hold some negative connotations for those who think of a time when missionaries sailed the oceans in search of “heathens” to convert. “Our vision of mission and the church has changed and become much more inviting and welcoming,” Mougey said. “It’s about our example. The basic day-to-day stuff that we do should invite people to the life of conversion and transformation in Jesus.”
This is how Sister Judith defines missionary work, too.
“It’s bringing the Gospel message to those who have not heard of Jesus,” she said. “It’s spreading the message of Jesus’ love, spreading the message of faith.”
This devotion to spreading a message of faith is necessary to sustain the missionaries through the difficult situations they often find themselves living in. “They’re living in extreme circumstances, too. They live in the same circumstances that the people themselves live in, and they’re pretty uncomfortable,” Sister Judith said. “I have complete admiration for what they’re doing, and certainly I have empathy for them, too.”
Yet for those who have devoted their lives to spreading the Gospel, there is no risk or discomfort too great.
“It’s challenging and rewarding just as the life of a Christian is challenging and rewarding,” Mougey said.
The U.S. Catholic Mission Association, in collaboration with several other mission organizations, will host an annual mission congress from Oct. 29-31 in Albuquerque, N.M. More information on the congress and the Association’s handbook, which costs $15, is available on their website, www.uscatholicmission.org, or by calling (202) 832-3112.
Those who cannot come physically to the event can participate through a 2010 Mission Reflection Guide on the website. The guide has a series of quotes, prayers and suggestions for reflection on faith and mission work. “It’s an opportunity for people to start thinking about working in mission and contextualizing it within their life,” Mougey said.
“This is a direct appeal — especially to our lives as Christians — just to live in solidarity with one another. You don’t have to go far to be in mission. You can be in mission to your next-door-neighbor. You can be in mission to the next county over,” Mougey said. “That’s something that gets lost sometimes. It’s our identity as Catholics to discern and to present Jesus’s ability to inform our lives and liberate our lives through his salvation.”
For more information on mission work, opportunities to hear the missionaries who will visit the diocese this summer or to donate to help missionaries around the world, contact the Office for the Propagation of the Faith at (315) 472-3442. Donations may also be mailed to 1342 Lancaster Ave., Syracuse, N.Y. 13210-3320.