During a Maryknoll sending ceremony, Sister Maggie Mkenda, left, calls forth five lay missioners and three children Dec. 8 at Annunciation Chapel of the Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, N.Y. The five lay missioners have committed to three and a half years of service in Tanzania. (CNS photo/courtesy Maryknoll Lay Missioners)

OSSINING, N.Y. (CNS) — Twelve Maryknoll lay missioners and one Maryknoll sister celebrated the beginning of their overseas mission journeys in a sending ceremony Dec. 8 held at the Annunciation Chapel of the Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining.

“We give thanks to you and all missioners whose ‘yes’ profoundly speaks of hope,” Ted Miles, executive director of Maryknoll Lay Missioners, told the group.

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“We give thanks to you, for your ‘yes’ gives witness to the love of our God, who is always and everywhere doing something new in us and in the world,” he said. “And we give thanks to our God whose grace and covenant with all of us makes all of this possible.”

Sister Antoinette Gutzler, president of the Maryknoll Sisters, called the sending ceremony “one of the most important and joyful events in the life of Maryknoll. It gives witness to our evolving understanding of cross-cultural mission, the call of discipleship and what it means to be part of the faith-filled communities of Maryknoll.”

Sister Gutzler also pointed out the importance of key passages from the commitment prayer the new missioners recite during the ceremony.

They commit themselves to go forth and witness to the good news of the reign of God in solidarity with the poor and also pledge “to care for the earth, our common home, and to respond in service to help create a more just and compassionate world.”

The ceremony culminated in a blessing of the new missioners by the assembly of about 200 — which included current and returned lay missioners, Maryknoll sisters, Maryknoll priests and Maryknoll affiliates.

With the blessing, Sister Gutzler said, “We as a community ask for God’s blessings on those who are being sent forth. It represents the desire of all of us here to be in solidarity with these new missioners.”

The new lay missioners range in age from 23 to 69 and include individuals, couples, and a family of five. They have committed to three and a half years of service.

The sending ceremony marked the end of a 10-week orientation program at Maryknoll. The intensive training included Scripture and theology classes as well as workshops focused on spiritual development, intercultural encounter and practical aspects of overseas mission work. It was designed to prepare the missioners for cross-cultural ministries with economically poor and marginalized communities overseas and to form them as members of the Maryknoll missioner community.

The 12 will depart in January for their respective mission sites in Bolivia, El Salvador, Haiti, Kenya and Tanzania. There they will receive several months of in-country language training and acculturation before beginning their ministry assignments. Haiti is a new mission site for Maryknoll Lay Missioners.

Sister Armeline Sidoine, who from the Republic of the Congo, first met the Maryknoll Sisters in Brazil and joined them five years ago. She has worked as a teacher and in youth programs, parish ministry and radio. Already fluent in five languages, she made her first vows with Maryknoll in January 2018.

After a seven-year hiatus, this year’s event once again combined the sending ceremony for Maryknoll Lay Missioners and the Maryknoll Sisters — two branches of the Maryknoll family, which also includes the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and the Maryknoll Affiliates.

During the ceremony, the heads of all four branches together blessed the mission crosses that each missioner received, Sister Gutzler said, as a symbol of “the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a sign of faith in a loving God, who calls the missioner to be a sign of God’s love in the world.”

“To be missional,” Miles said in his remarks, “is to join in God’s mission, a mission that existed long before any of us, but nonetheless into which we are so intimately called, invited, even summoned by our God whose love knows no bounds.”

The new missioners also heard from Teresita Gonzalez, who has served as the director of mission for the Archdiocese of Miami and as board president of the U.S. Catholic Mission Association. In her address, Gonzalez quoted the late Father Pedro Arrupe, Jesuit superior general, who had said, “Fall in love, stay in love — it will decide everything.”

She said, “The love you desire will in fact transform everything. The Holy Spirit is always guiding prophetic ministry. The Holy Spirit whispers a love story that inspires souls.”

“Fall in love,” she concluded. “In your yes, we all hear your love again and again. Always be known by your love.”

Maryknoll lay missioners work in Africa, Asia and the Americas in a wide range of ministries that include health care, education, restorative justice, pastoral care, human rights, sustainable development, and ministries with refugees and people with disabilities.

The Maryknoll lay mission program was first launched in 1974. A year later, it was officially founded as a collaborative effort of Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and Maryknoll Sisters. It became an independent Maryknoll organization in 1994.

Earlier this year the whole Maryknoll family celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first Maryknoll “sending” of four missionary priests to China.