By Deacon Daniel Stevens
In 1926, Pope Pius XI instituted World Mission Sunday for the whole Church with the first collection taking place in October 1927.
Now something special happens every year on the next-to-last Sunday of October. World Mission Sunday joins all Catholics of the world into one community of faith. At Mass that Sunday, we recommit ourselves to our common vocation, through baptism to be missionaries, through prayer, participation in the Eucharist, and by giving generously to the collection for the Propagation of the Faith enabling Pope Francis to provide for his missions throughout the world.
On Oct. 1, we celebrated the Memorial of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Patroness of the Missions and missionaries. Thérèse entered the Carmelite convent at Lisieux when she was only 15. Although she experienced periods of spiritual dryness, she persisted in serving God and his children in her silent, isolated existence with her whole heart and soul. She eventually developed her Little Way of approaching every moment of life with the intention of worshiping God and doing good for others in all circumstances.
She had a particular zeal for praying for missionaries. Thérèse even hoped to be a missionary herself but was prevented by tuberculosis. At the direction of her sister Pauline, Prioress of the convent, she wrote her autobiography during the last two years of her life. “The Story of a Soul” remains a popular work of spiritual literature. In his encyclical on Catholic Missions in 1926, Pope Pius XI said: “This saint who, during her life here below as a religious, made herself responsible for and adopted … more than one missionary in order to assist him in his work as was her custom by her prayers, by voluntary and prescribed corporal penances, but, above all, by offering to her Divine Spouse the dreadful sufferings resulting on the disease with which she was afflicted.”
St. Thérèse lost no opportunity to help missionaries spread the Good News. Each of us has the same possibility if we choose to take advantage of it. Let us imitate her prayer and sacrifice to help ourselves draw closer to God. Let us pray for the intercession of St. Thérèse to guide and protect all missionaries, as we ourselves pledge daily prayer and generous help on World Mission Sunday for the priests, religious sisters and brothers, and lay pastoral ministers.
Pope Francis’ message for World Mission Sunday this year reflects on the theme “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). He reminds us that the Church is missionary in nature and that we are called at baptism to share in this mission together. The Holy Father exclaims, “Would that all of us in the Church were what we already are by virtue of baptism: prophets, witnesses, missionaries of the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth!”
On World Mission Sunday, we join our Holy Father in supporting his missions. As we pray and respond here at home, we share in those celebrations taking place in every parish and school throughout the world. Together, through our prayers and financial support, we bring the Lord’s mercy and concrete help to the most vulnerable communities in the Pope’s missions. In a world where so much divides us, World Mission Sunday rejoices in our unity as missionaries by our baptism, as it offers each one of us an opportunity to support the life-giving presence of the Church among the poor and marginalized in more than 1,100 mission dioceses.
Editor’s note: Deacon Stevens is the director of the diocesan office for the Pontifical Mission Societies. He serves at Blessed Sacrament and St. Vincent de Paul churches in Syracuse.