Over one billion Catholics all over the world observe today as World Mission Sunday. This annual observance was instituted in 1926 by a Papal decree issued by Pope Pius XI. Every year since then, the universal Church has dedicated the month of October to reflection on and prayer for the missions. On World Mission Sunday, Catholics gather to celebrate the Eucharist and to contribute to a collection for the work of evangelization around the world.
Why does the Church give so much importance to World Mission Sunday? The Acts of Apostles gives a very good answer: “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The Apostles were following the missionary mandate that Jesus gave us all to go and proclaim the good news to all creation (Matthew 28:19-20). This annual celebration gives us a chance to reflect on the importance of missionary works for the life of the Church. It reminds us that we are one with the universal Church and that we are all committed to carrying on the mission of Christ, however different our situations may be.
You know that I myself was a missionary in the north-eastern Indian State of Nagaland and you have heard me sharing my missionary experiences. But when I came to this country, I was quite surprised to hear that there were missionary regions in the USA. “Home Missions” is the name for dioceses and parishes in the United States, including its territories and former territories, which cannot provide basic pastoral services to Catholics without outside help. Basic pastoral services include Mass and sacraments, religious education, and ministry training for priests, deacons, religious sisters and lay people.
For many decades, the Church in the United States has sent missionaries overseas to serve the people of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The home missions are dioceses and parishes here in the United States that need the same kind of support. Surprisingly, according to the USCCB, “the Catholic Church is poorly established in many parts of our country, especially Appalachia, the South, the Southwest along the Mexican border, the Rocky Mountain States, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and remote island chains like the Marshalls and the Carolines in the Pacific.” Generally speaking, the home missions are everywhere that Catholics are few and the Church is fragile. Here’s just one example:
In Montana, the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings has 99 parishes and missions stretching over 90,000 square miles. Many priests in this diocese serve multiple parishes – some serve up to five! Many parishes cannot meet the financial obligations of having a full-time priest and communities often feel disconnected from the larger Church.
So, when the World Mission Sunday rightly raises our awareness of the worldwide missionary efforts in the world outside of the United States, let us not forget the missionary regions closer home in our own country.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal