As Mission Sunday approaches each year, my mind goes back to earlier carefree days when missionary priests and sisters visited my elementary school classroom. They told stories about life in faraway places — sometimes in the cold of northern lands, like Alaska or Antarctica; sometimes in the tropical islands or the jungles of Africa. They talked to us about the people living in these remote lands and of the desire to bring the Gospel to them. As I listened, the challenge of the missionaries’ life and work expanded my imagination, and, even at an early age, I considered theirs an exciting life. Maybe I should be a missionary!
It was not too many years later that I realized I was not made for that kind of sacrifice. I still wanted to be a priest but in surroundings more familiar to myself and with family nearby for mutual support and strength.
I never lost my love for the missions, however. In college, I was president of the local chapter of the Catholic Students’ Mission Crusade. Each month, we would gather to listen to a speaker from the mission lands or from a religious community that sent people to the missions. And we would help out these hearty evangelizers with our prayers and some small monetary contributions.
As Mission Sunday, which is always the third Sunday in October, approaches, I recalled these thoughts from earlier years. Although I have never made it to the foreign missions, I admire immensely those men and women – clergy, religious, and lay – who give their lives so completely to helping, both materially and spiritually, our brothers and sisters in faraway places.
Although perhaps we rarely think of it, we too are missionaries. All of us who profess the Catholic faith share in the mandate that Jesus gave to His disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt.28:19) We do it, however, in less dramatic ways, primarily by praying for the missions and secondarily by supporting them with our alms. Saint Therese of Lisieux, the young Carmelite nun who never left the cloister, became the Patroness of the Missions in just this way.
Pope Benedict, in his Mission Sunday Message, reminds us that the Gospel is never an exclusive possession of those who have received it but a gift to share, good news to communicate. This gift, he says, is not entrusted only to a few but to all the baptized who are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” (1Pt2:9) so that they may declare His wonderful deeds.
As we begin our celebration of the 125th anniversary of our diocese and review our rich history, it is interesting to note that within two years of the founding of our diocese, Blessed Marianne Cope and her band of sisters left our area to carry the message of Christ and His healing presence to the people of Hawaii. They were among the first to leave our diocese for what was considered the foreign missions. Happily through the years, the Diocese of Syracuse has been both the giver and the recipient of the rich blessings that come to those with the missionary spirit.
Let me tell you briefly about some who carry on this missionary work today.
Father Michael Bassano, MM, a native of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Binghamton, has worked in the missions for more than 30 years. He has served in South America, in Thailand and now in Tanzania. Currently he works in a home of compassion which is a residence for 100 people who are mentally and physically challenged, who are HIV positive, some cured of leprosy, street kids, homeless men and women and orphans.
Peter Daino, a native of Holy Family Parish in Endwell and a lay missionary, works in Malawi in a ministry known as the Lusubilo Orphan Care Project. This project provides nourishment (feeding stations) for children as well as structures for housing and education.
Father Charles Delaney, CSC is 90 years old and has celebrated 60 years as a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Father Delaney works extensively with alcoholics and persons with addictive behaviors at the San Roque Pastoral Center in Santiago, Chile.
Father Peter Major, MHM recently visited my office. Originally from Skaneateles, he is on a home visit from the Sudan, where he has worked for more than 30 years, including extensive work in refugee camps.
Sister Marie Schuh, CSJ is from St. Anthony’s Parish in Syracuse. Sister Marie has ministered in Peru for over 30 years forming basic Christian communities. She is currently involved in jail ministry.
Sister Frances Clare DeGracia, OSF was one of the original Franciscan sisters from Syracuse who went to Peru in 1967 and continues to work there. She works in an extremely poor village outside of Lima where 99% of the homes have no running water or bathrooms. Agriculture is the main employment for most residents with families earning about $100 per month. Despite their poverty, the people continue to practice their faith.
These are just a few of the many men and women, nurtured and educated in the Diocese of Syracuse, who have given up everything to follow Christ. We will remember them in a special way during our Mission Sunday observance.
Do you know anyone who is a missionary? I hope you will pray for him or her and support the missionary effort of the church at Mass on Oct. 23, World Mission Sunday. But remember, you too are a missionary. The gift of faith which we have received should also be given as a gift. All of us are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” (1Pt 2:9) Let us declare His wonderful deeds.
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.