Returning from the Philippines, I can testify to the fact that every mission trip transforms a person in a particular manner. Of course, there is no doubt that when you’re on a mission trip you feel that you are participating in the work of the Church. The concentration of most mission projects is to improve or assist the situation of those affected by a disaster or cultural circumstances.
I am proud to be a Catholic and very proud to witness the generosity of American Catholics through the efforts of CRS (Catholic Relief Services) or the work of many of our parishes, religious communities, schools and fraternal organizations. It boggles the mind to realize just how extensive the charitable outreach of the American Catholic community is in the ongoing international twinning, overseas projects, disaster assistance, etc., just to point out a few areas.
Americans are usually concerned with dollars and cents. The monetary efforts of CRS, which is the international charity of the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), totals more than $900 million, which represents a little less than 1 billion. But this figure alone is not indicative of the total outreach, which is augmented by the work of the archdiocese through the parishes, charitable organizations, religious communities and schools, as well as the main offices of the archdiocese (World Missions Office). Our Mission Director, Antoinette Mensah, has just returned from a mission trip to Ghana. We hope to establish a relationship with the Catholics of Ghana since there is a connection with our archdiocesan community and the nation of Ghana.
In addition to the monetary contributions, there are religious services and volunteers. What price tag do we place on the work of the many religious who labor in a community acting as advocates, educators or community builders or the volunteers who build wells and educate individuals in health care and crop rotation? The salaries that could have been demanded for the work that they perform are often forgotten and would be astronomical if added to the yearly budget.
Many of our local parishes have human concern committees. They address the issue of various local and regional charitable issues. They remind us of our responsibility to brothers and sisters in our community right under our noses. But they will not allow us to forget that we are also a worldwide Church that finds itself addressing every situation (housing, fresh water, food, etc.) that affects our neighbors in other countries and the preservation of their personal dignity.
Our own Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is our domestic arm. They do a terrific job realizing that our brothers and sisters have needs. Many of us cannot afford the time but we can spend a few dollars helping the poorest of the poor among us. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, “Gaudete Et Exsultate”, Pope Francis calls us to holiness in today’s world. Our supreme shepherd challenges us with his interpretation of the eight beatitudes. Pope Francis tells us: “The Beatitudes are like a Christian Identity card, so if anyone asks: “what must one do to be a good Christian?” the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives.” (63)
What ignites the mission spirit is a mission trip. I would encourage every Catholic who can to make a mission trip. It seems that everyone that I met that has caught the missionary spirit made a mission trip.
A few things happen. You experience the need first hand. You cannot deny either the abject poverty or the celebration of the human spirit that is discovered in the most extreme situations. You realize just how much can be accomplished with so little. A few dollars and a little effort can give hope to the future of a community. It is remarkable that a good idea can go a long way in helping to reshape a community. Many of the mission trips emphasize the old Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” There is a relationship that is created, which is an ongoing commitment. In Catholic mission projects, it is collaboration with the local citizenry, respecting their dignity which empowers them to assume ownership of the projects. It gives one a greater appreciation of their faith and the power of the Gospel. Humanitarian movements are indeed necessary but to witness faith in action adds an element to the projects that immediately conveys God’s love for a people forgotten. Returning from a trip, you can never look at your life in the same manner. You suddenly recognize things at your disposal that you took for granted, running hot and cold water, streets that are paved and roads which allow quick travel, and consistency in electric power. I thank God for these blessings and realize that I live in a country that affords advantages that the majority of people in the world only dream about. My prayer of gratitude has increased.
Our Pope Francis has encouraged us to become a missionary people, to dare to go to the outskirts and serve the marginalized. I would encourage you if possible to make a mission trip, either with your parish or in conjunction with our World Mission Office; our archdiocesan parish, La Sagrada Familia, is always available.
Realize that your monetary contribution makes a difference, sometimes in a monumental manner (remember a little goes a long way). Lastly, but most importantly, pray for the missions — your prayers place us in solidarity with our brothers and sisters.
We cannot be indifferent to those in need. Cardinal Francis George said we are advocates for the poor in this world so that the poor may be our advocates in the next. Your lives will change and your gratitude to God increases.