By Msgr. James McDonough
One of the touching and inspirational moments of the Christmas season takes place in our parish churches after Holy Mass. Mothers, dads and sometimes older brothers and sisters lead the younger children to the manger and tell the story of the newborn baby. They tell of the love that His mother, Mary, and St. Joseph knew on the night that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, first appeared in the world. They tell of the stories of the angels who called the shepherds to visit the Holy Child in Bethlehem and talk of the three wise men and the gifts they brought.
No one standing nearby can miss the look of wonder on the faces of the young children.
This scene – with its outpouring of love, brightness and wonder – is similar in mission lands of Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and remote regions of Latin America. Missionaries called by God share the story of the love of Jesus with young believers in these countries.
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, referring to the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, of the Servant of God John Paul II, calls missionaries today to tell of the love and wonder of Jesus to the people in the “young” churches of our world – areas in our world where the Church “has not yet taken root” and with peoples “whose culture has not yet been influenced by the Gospel.” (Redemptoris Missio, 34)
Like the mothers, dads, brothers and sisters telling the Christmas story of the child in the manger, our missionaries unfold, to many for the first time, the hope-filled and joyful story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Our missionaries are teaching the Gospel message to those who have not heard it, baptizing them in the waters of salvation, caring for their physical well-being and helping them to form Christian communities.
Missionaries, like the Religious of Notre Dame of the Missions, have heard the call and journeyed to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. They found life most difficult. Parents struggled to provide for the most basic needs of their children. Children had no opportunity for education.
For the poor in that region, there was little “good news.” When the sisters arrived, they visited families, listened to their problems, shared their pain and prayed with them. They started schools, offering an education to the Dulangan Manobo people in a culturally sensitive way. They provided modest medical care. Above all, these sisters were a visible presence of the Church. In all they did and said, they gave witness to Jesus’ healing, saving love.
As the sisters in the Philippines tell the story of the birth of Jesus, and many other priests and religious tell the same story in other mission lands, we can imagine the wonder on the faces of those who are hearing the Christmas story for the first time.
In Philadelphia, your prayers and your sacrificial gifts to the Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith help make it possible for priests and religious to sustain the “young” churches in mission lands and for the first time to share with many people the meaning and wonder of the first Christmas.
During this Advent Season, I am most thankful for your continuing prayers for the poor of the Missions throughout the world. Remember, through prayer and acts of sacrifice, by your words and actions, you become a missionary for the Lord.
Msgr. James McDonough is the director of the Office of the the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.