By N. J. Viehland
Marikina City, Philippines – Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), the pope’s worldwide office for missions operating in the Philippines, has contributed greatly to promoting mission in the Church in the Philippines, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president said at the closing Mass for the 3-day Grand Mission Festival.
At least 5,000 Catholics gathered here east of Manila last April 18-20 to celebrate Year of the Missions. CBCP dedicated 2012 to promoting the missionary orientation and give thanks and praise for eight decades of PMS.
PMS established around the world carries out the mission of the Church to propagate the faith, have children growing in sharing the faith, and preparing priests for mission work through four societies, Archbishop Palma explained in his homily.
The societies collect funds from Catholics worldwide to support missionary activity of the Church. Society for the Propagation of the Faith funds support general missionary activities, St. Peter the Apostle funds are raised to promote missionary vocation and formation of priests, seminarians and Women Religious, Missionary Union for lay mission workers in ecumenical dialogue and other evangelization work, and Holy Childhood Association for education and Christian formation of children and youth.
In the Philippines, PMS total funding for missionary work in 2011 reached 80 million pesos (roughly US $1.874 million), Mission Society of the Philippines Father Socrates Mesiona, PMS national director told me at the congress. He said Philippines Churches raised about 25 million pesos.
PMS staff said 50 mission directors from around the country came with delegations of priests, seminarians, lay officers and members of various parish groups, students and other youths.
Under the scorching sun or a starry sky, delegates joined in Masses, sang, danced, lit candles and sat silently on the ground in prayer. They huddled in halls to discuss lectures and videos, draw pictures and compose reflections, then mingled with strangers and interviewed missionaries at exhibit booths highlighting the festival theme “remembering history, proclaiming Jesus story, and celebrating our faith.”
Seminarian Feli Ayala, St. Alphonsus seminary second year theology student before bussing back to Quezon Province said the festival helped him realize he can be a missionary by “sharing and communicating Jesus Christ to others.”
“I learned from Archbishop (Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila) we can be good storytellers and we can be good missionaries who proclaim Jes
us Christ if we ourselves have first-hand experience of his presence,” he told me before heading home.
Doing Mission by Storytelling
He told participants salvation history is “the story of God’s love affair with humanity” and all Christians can share in doing the Church’s mission by knowing Jesus’ story and sharing it through their lives.
Tagle said storytelling in order to fulfill the Church’s mission must be told by a credible witness who shows he “knows God” through his words and actions.
Citing Pope Paul VI, he said, “Our age listens more to witnesses than to teachers.”
The story one tells of Jesus’ love defines a person and builds community, Tagle added. “Our stories tell us who we are and what kind of community we are – what stories bind us together.”
He reminded delegates there are many ways to tell a story. “Our very persons could be the story of Jesus. That’s how the saints told the story of Jesus.
In Tagalog language, Tagle said, “Many of us cannot remember Pope John Paul II’s many teachings, but only looking at pictures will remind us of his life and his person. Until his body became bent and when he was almost completely stooped he continued to serve. That’s the story of Jesus.”
Photographs of the kindly face of Blessed Teresa embracing shabbily-dressed people from the gutters, her gentle stroking of dying people also tell the story of Jesus, Tagle added.
Reorienting Clergy to Mission
Missiologist Father Andrew Recepcion of Caceres Archdiocese shared Tagle’s hope. “It has to be understood by priests that mission is not added work. For many priests, their concept of mission is that it is an activity that has to be done when in fact mission should be the soul of pastoral work.
“If we do not do mission, we are not missionaries of Christ carrying out our pastoral work but we end up as social workers, organizers, event managers, CEO of the Church,” Recepcion said.
In his northern Philippines archdiocese, mission formation is part of the seminary formation program. Seminarians spend weeks of exposure to mission situations in the diocese “to understand that being in the parish is not merely celebrating rituals but a constant life-giving witness to the faith,” Recepcion said.
Since 1997, the archdiocese has sent almost 50 of its 280 priests to serve in mission abroad through the Caceres Mission Aid Program.
Mesiona acknowledges, “Our problem is lack of enthusiasm for mission promotion and work. Maybe priests cannot connect. Maybe they’re thinking they already have enough pastoral work to do.”
Only about 80 percent of Philippines dioceses have appointed mission directors, and “fast turnover of leadership of the offices is another problem,” the missioner said.
Mission of the Whole Church
Recepcion praised organizers and service team of the “fruitful” festival. In the long term, he said the impact of the festival could be determined by how effectively delegates and newly assigned missionaries will inspire people “by witnessing to Jesus through their lives.”
Palma at the closing Mass led send off prayers for a dozen newly assigned lay missionaries
– Mel Torralba, Youth for Christ (Middle East)
– Maria Lenete B. Bertumen, Philippine Catholic Lay Mission (Thailand)
In his homily, Palma invited delegates, specifying the youth, to volunteer for Church activities and offered Blessed Pedro Calungsod, the 17th century young sacristan from the Visayas Island whose life and work with Jesuit missioners to the Mariana Islands (Guam) ended in their martyrdom. The Vatican has set the canonization of Blessed Pedro and six other beatified people on World Mission Sunday, tomorrow Oct. 21. Blessed Pedro’s life and virtues offered themes for festival workshops and animation activities
Palma invited participants to pilgrimages from various countries to Rome around the time of the canonization, and suggested those who could not come join the thanksgiving Mass in Cebu or activities in their own dioceses when the new saint’s image is brought around the country.