By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

World Mission Sunday on Oct. 19 takes on special meaning in this Year of St. Paul, the first and ultimate missionary to the Gentiles.

“St. Paul had understood well that only in Christ can humanity find redemption and hope,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his World Mission Sunday message. “Therefore he perceived that the mission was pressing and urgent to proclaim the promise of life in Christ Jesus, our hope, so that all people could be co-heirs in the promise through the Gospel.”

The Pontifical Mission Societies, which receive funding through World Mission Sunday donations, help support more than 1,150 mission dioceses in Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and Latin America, according to statistics supplied by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

For example the Diocese of Tehuantepec, Mexico has 1.9 million Catholics and only 25 priests. In addition to financial aid received through the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Philadelphia office donated chalices and vestments for use in this needy diocese.

The Archdiocese of Gulu, Uganda has been wracked by civil war. More than 20,000 children have been abducted for forced service in the rebel army and 80 percent of the Catholic families are living in refugee camps. Money donated to the Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith directly assists these refugees.

The Church in Nepal has only 7,000 Catholics, yet it conducts schools for 17,000 children, including many with handicaps. They receive funding through mission donations by children in Holy Childhood Associations.

In some countries, the need is mostly for funding rather than boots on the ground missionaries. A case in point, according to the latest Church statistics, is India. With only a fraction of the Catholic population of the U.S., India has an incredible 13,700 seminarians, compared to less than 5,200 in America.

Msgr. James T. McDonough, director of the Archdiocesan Office for the Propagation of the Faith, points to the India-based Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, which by themselves have 2,400 men preparing for the priesthood. This congregation receives financial assistance through the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Philadelphia is always among the top 10 dioceses in the country for support of the World Mission Sunday collection, according to Msgr. McDonough.

Significantly, this year is the 100th anniversary of the United States itself becoming independent of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, he noted. Prior to that, as a mission country, we were more on the receiving end of donations.

“Now we are in a position to give,” Msgr. McDonough said.

Prayers are just as important as money, and as Msgr. McDonough notes, in 1971 it was Bishop Fulton Sheen, then national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, who inaugurated the world mission rosary. Each of the five decades is designated by color for the various regions of the world.

Green is for the forests of Africa, blue for the islands of the Pacific, white symbolizes Europe, the seat of the Holy Father, red calls to mind the fire of faith brought by missionaries to America and yellow, the morning light in the East for Asia.

Each year the focus is on one decade, and this year it is white for Europe, the continent that sent so many missionaries to the United States, Msgr. McDonough notes.

He cites the many missionary priests and sisters, spiritual sons and daughters of St. Patrick who came to America from Ireland. There were also St. Francis Cabrini’s Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who came from Italy, and the Daughters of Charity and the Vincentian Fathers, both founded by France’s St. Vincent de Paul. In Philadelphia our ultimate missionary was St. John Neumann, born in Bohemia.

“Our emphasis this year is on recognizing we have been evangelized in this country and now it is our obligation as missionaries to evangelize the young Churches around the world,” Msgr. McDonough said.

“We are all missionaries by our baptism. This is not just something we should want to do, it is our obligation.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.