By Msgr. James McDonough
One of my favorite responsibilities is going with missionaries to schools and talking to children in the Holy Childhood Association (HCA), a Pontifical Mission Society. Only children can belong to HCA. Our elementary school children, though young, share the missionary vocation of all the baptized. Through participation in HCA in their Parish Religious Education Program (PREP) or Catholic school, children discover the world-wide mission activity of the Church.
HCA members in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia learn about the needs of children in mission areas around the world, pray for children and the missionaries who aid them and offer personal and financial sacrifices. During the month of October, a number of schools and PREP programs prayed the world mission rosary. Our HCA mission education coordinator and members of missionary groups have visited schools and PREP programs to share stories and photographs from the missions.
Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI asks the members of the Holy Childhood Association to pray and sacrifice daily for the missions. Pope Benedict wrote to the members of the Holy Childhood Association in September 2007, when he visited Austria.
The Holy Father stated: “Indeed, there are a great many children who do not yet know Jesus. And unfortunately, there are just as many who lack what they need to live: food, health care, education; many are deprived of peace and serenity. The Church pays special attention to them, especially through missionaries; and you too are called to make your contribution, both personally and as a group” (Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Children of the Pontifical Missionary Childhood Society, Sept. 3, 2007).
Catholic children throughout the world, including those living in mission dioceses, belong to HCA. At a mission education talk at St. Cyprian School in Philadelphia, Father Kieran Udeze, from the mission Diocese of Onitsha, said that the children in Nigeria belong to HCA. Father Udeze added that his diocese uses the funds from HCA to pay for the school fees and tuition for children whose families cannot afford it. Every February, the diocese celebrates Holy Childhood Day with a Mass at their cathedral.
The financial offerings of Holy Childhood Association members directly benefit children in more than 1,100 mission dioceses. Most of the programs supported by HCA are in Africa and Asia, although mission dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and the Pacific Islands also benefit greatly.
This year, the financial sacrifices of HCA members throughout the world are helping to build schools, including some in Baghdad and Beirut; operate orphanages, including homes in Africa for children orphaned by AIDS, and homes in Sri Lanka for children whose families died in the 2004 tsunami. They will also support children living on the street in Mongolia and former child soldiers in Liberia; supply catechetical materials for children all over the world, including Cuba; and provide health care, nutrition programs and clean water to children around the world. (Source: The Pontifical Missionary Cooperation and Solidarity between the Churches Report 2006/2007)
The Holy Father asks HCA members to pray one Hail Mary a day for the missions, and to offer personal and financial sacrifices. I challenge our children to offer a Hail Mary every day. What about praying while you brush your teeth, and thinking of all the children in the world who do not have clean water? Or while you are waiting for the school bus, thinking of all the kids your age who cannot go to school because they are working, or they are displaced by war?
And maybe our children, during the Lenten season, can save their change from lunch or sacrifice by not having an extra snack, and send this to benefit children in mission dioceses.
Remember, young or old, through prayer and acts of sacrifice, by your words and actions, you become a missionary for the Lord.
For more information about the Holy Childhood Association, visit www.phillymissions.org
Msgr. James McDonough is the director of the Office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.