World Mission Day: Bishop Olson, missionaries encourage faithful to spread the Gospel message
WEATHERFORD — Witnessing families trapped in a cycle of poverty drew Cecilia Villanueva to mission work in Honduras.
Working as a translator during a medical mission trip in 2009, the St. Stephen parishioner saw 13, 14, and 15-year-olds who were already married and pregnant.
“The families told us they marry kids young because it’s one less mouth to feed,” she said, explaining that the teenage moms then become childcare providers for other households. “People bring their kids to them so the older women can work.”
Villanueva and her husband, Gus, began their involvement in Educate the Children Honduras as a way of giving children — especially girls — the opportunity for a better future. Through sponsorships and donations that pay for tuition, classroom supplies, and teacher salaries, ETC Honduras allows youngsters to receive an education in a Catholic school beyond the sixth grade. It’s one of several outreach mission programs endorsed by the Diocesan Mission Council. Other Catholic parishes help educate villagers in Bolivia, Guatemala, and Haiti.
“Women are the main force that lift families out of poverty,” said Villanueva recounting the school’s many successes. “We’re already seeing young women going into college.”
Reminding the congregation that, like missionaries, we are all called to spread the Gospel message through conversion, prayer, and acts of charity, Bishop Michael Olson marked World Mission Sunday a week early with a Mass celebrated Oct. 16 at Weatherford’s St. Stephen Church.
Pope Pius XI instituted Mission Sunday in 1926 so Catholics the world over would recognize their common responsibility to evangelize and support the missionary movement. The first Mission Sunday collection, benefitting the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, took place the following year. More than 1,100 mission dioceses receive regular annual assistance from the funds collected.
In his homily, Bishop Olson said the primary challenge facing the Church today does not come from non-believers but from high-profile Catholics — including bishops, priests, and theologians, who “give evidence of no longer holding the authentic Catholic faith. This is the need for missionary conversion among all of us.”
To have faith and to share the faith means to know the truth revealed by Christ.
“Too frequently we don’t live up to that truth, and we cannot live that truth without prayer that not only brings about conversion but concrete works of charity especially among the poor,” he added.
Before the Mass, the World Mission Rosary was recited in the sanctuary led by the parish’s religious education classes. Each decade of the Rosary represents a different continent where missionary work continues.
Beginning the morning’s liturgy with the Rosary left an impression especially with children, commented Angie Harmon, a St. Stephen parishioner.
“Our biggest mission is raising a family in the Catholic faith,” the young mother commented. “Starting with the Rosary, and including the children, showed them prayer is powerful no matter what stage of life you’re in.”
Exhibits set up in the parish hall allowed visitors to see the different types of missionary work underway in the diocese. Along with donating and volunteering in foreign lands, parishioners also serve the needy in North Texas. The mission team at St. Catherine of Siena in Carrollton partners with Metrocrest Services to help the homeless in South Dallas as well as participating in food bank and community farm projects.
“We think locally because a lot of people say, ‘I can’t go [overseas.] I don’t have the time, money, or energy,’” explained Barbara Vanikiotis, a mission team member. “So we tell them you can do something right here to help people.”
Mike Wuller, a member of the Diocesan Mission Council and longtime Educate the Children Bolivia benefactor, said we’re all called by our Baptism to bring Christ’s presence into the world. Helping other cultures that don’t have the advantages we have is important but there are different levels of participation.
“It doesn’t always mean climbing on an airplane and going somewhere,” he insisted. “Mission is when you go out of your comfort space and serve the community by showing them Jesus Christ is present in today’s world.”