LAST Sunday, October 20, the Catholic Church celebrated the World Mission Sunday. It was also the centennial celebration of the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XV’s “Maximum Illud” or the letter on the missionary activity of the Catholic Church.
I remembered when I was in my basic education years at a Chinese school, we would celebrate the month of October as the mission month. We were asked individually to have our “mission cans” where we put our coins in and every Friday, we submit whatever we had saved in the can for the week to our Religion teacher. We also had a contest in giving money for the missions.
What was funny was that whoever could give the highest would be rewarded and would be given additional points. We enjoyed giving not because of the spirit of giving to the mission but what we were after the reward and the awards. It was good for my classmates who had much more to spare, so they would always get the bacon. Unfortunately, the activity did not give me the love for missions. It impressed upon me that the activity was another fundraising one.
In college, my religious education professor, who was a recollect friar, taught us what real mission is all about. He taught us that he was being prepared by the Order for missionary work. He received his theological training in Spain and was preparing himself for missionary life. He taught us a lot of things regarding the missionary activity of the Church. Unfortunately, though he went out of the Order but pursued a life of being a lay missionary by living the principles of the missions. We, his students, learned that mission is more of giving oneself for the propagation of the faith and liberating the lives of people. He taught us the real essence of missionary work, which was not taught to me in my basic education years.
In the seminary, the missionary activity of the Church was put to practice. These were the years under the episcopate of the late Bishop Antonio Fortich and the rectorship of Rev. Fr. Dimitri Gatia. There, I learned the real meaning of the mission. One does not need to go to mission lands but one has to look at his backyard for he might be needed there.
We needed local missionaries and local evangelizers. It was a time where most people are more concerned with financial and economic status rather than the word of God. The poor clanged to God and were more participative in the liturgy but what can most of them do since they do not even have food on their tables.
Working in a school run by the Order of Augustinian Recollect, a Religious Order born for Philippine Missions, it became clear to me that missionary work is not just around the corner but bringing the Good News to foreign lands. Here I got acquainted with Friars who had been assigned to the Amazons, Sierra Leone in Africa, Taiwan, Saipan, Palawan, and Surigao. I read, studied and understood their history and found that many European Friars decided to answer their missionary vocation and left their comforts to spread the Kingdom of God. These Friars joyfully gave up their luxuries in exchange for the challenges of missionary works.
So, as we are all called for missionary work, be it at home, in the country or a foreign land, we have to bear in mind that we have the mandate to proclaim the Good News through our actions. In any event, we could be evangelizers and missionaries by living the will of God. We have to answer this call with joyfulness in our hearts. Let us all continue to become missionaries at home, at the workplace, and in our communities.
St. Ezekiel Moreno, Augustinian Recollect missionary to the Philippines and Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us.