Bearing Witness to the Gospel

“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Roberto Bacalski, Program Coordinator at the Diocese of Arlington Office of Mission. Roberto Bacalski attended the USCMA Annual Conference on October 24 – 26, 2014 which was held this year in the Diocese of Arlington.

Called to Mission

Roberto Bacalski, Program Coordinator at the Diocese of Arlington Office of Mission

Roberto Bacalski, Program Coordinator at the Diocese of Arlington Office of Mission

As a young actor in Los Angeles, Roberto Bacalski was living the life he had always wanted.

Then a “seemingly random chain of events” began which led him to a new lifestyle, one in which he would dedicate his life to mission.

He married and moved across the country from Los Angeles to Arlington, Virginia, where he took a job as a restaurant manager. But he soon found himself restless, even miserable in this new job. Something didn’t fit. He went back to waiting tables, praying, and discerning about his life.

At that time, his wife was employed as the Communications Assistant for St. James Catholic Church, working for Fr. Patrick L. Posey, Pastor of St. James and Diocesan Director of the Mission Office. (She has since been named Director of Evangelization for St. James). When an opening became available for the position of Program Assistant in the Mission Office, he applied and got the job, excited for the opportunity to use his skills in outreach and public speaking for a greater purpose. Roberto is currently the Program Coordinator for the Mission Office. He sees that “random chain of events” which began in Los Angeles as the path God used for calling him to mission in this part of the country. Even the patron saint he had chosen when he was confirmed seems to have been a sign of what was to come – he chose the name Francis Xavier, patron saint of mission. “God finally coaxed me over,” Bacalski says.

The Mission Office of the Diocese of Arlington

Students work hard at the St. Francis Xavier School computer lab, funded by Arlington Diocese Donors.

Students work hard at the St. Francis Xavier School computer lab, funded by Arlington Diocese Donors.

The Mission Office of the diocese of Arlington is part of a worldwide Catholic network of offices which comprise the Pontifical Mission Societies. They exist in over 120 countries, and are dedicated to providing material and spiritual support to missionaries throughout the world. They all trace their origin to the efforts of a young French woman, Pauline Jaricot, who wanted to help her brother who was a missionary. Her dedicated missionary spirit inspired others to help missionaries as well and, from those humble beginnings in 1822, her movement grew into the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Other Pontifical Societies, such as the Missionary Childhood Association, share the same spirit and zeal. While working for the benefit of the worldwide Catholic mission effort, the diocesan Mission Office in Arlington reaches out with spiritual and financial aid in a special way to a sister diocese in Banica, Dominican Republic.

The Impact of Mission

When he visited a mission in Banica, Roberto was able to see firsthand the impact of aid from the Mission Office. Twenty years ago, there was a 10% literacy rate. There was no electricity or running water. There was no Catholic priest. Now there is a priest and a permanent deacon as well as three seminarians who grew up in the Banica mission. There is a thriving parish community with catechists and youth groups. There are paved roads and electricity. Roberto says that he witnessed tremendous “spiritual and material growth, which go hand in hand.” Furthermore, there are students going to college due to scholarships provided by the diocese of Arlington. One scholarship provided the means for a doctor to complete an externship in the Diocese of Arlington, after which he will return to the Dominican Republic and serve in the field of oncology. It is “a miracle that only the Holy Spirit can achieve,” Roberto says.

Mission: As Vital Now as in the Apostles’ Time

The Global Children's Eucharistic Holy Hour is an annual event of the Missionary Childhood Association at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.

The Global Children’s Eucharistic Holy Hour is an annual event of the Missionary Childhood Association at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.

Roberto adds that we cannot simply be content with these success stories, which are still few in number. There is still much to be done. Missionaries are needed to bring the Gospel message of God’s love, healing, and compassion. Especially today, we need the Gospel message of peace. When asked about the importance of mission in today’s world, Roberto’s response is passionate and clear: “Mission work is every bit as vital now as when the apostles were first sent out.” He points to the Diocese of Arlington’s Banica mission as both an example of the success of mission and as an illustration of why the Church must continue to support the work of mission. “We must form the next generation,” Roberto says, so that we can build “little by little, generations who do things differently, who do things as Christ wanted.”

Promoting Mission

Looking forward, Roberto continues to see a number of goals for mission in the Diocese of Arlington. He wants to raise awareness of the importance of mission, beginning with re-introducing mission education in Catholic schools. Lately, he was a key player behind the Global Children’s Eucharistic Holy Hour held at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. The event, a joint effort between the Arlington Diocese, the Missionary Childhood Association National Office, and the Archdiocese of Washington which was broadcast on EWTN on October 3, 2014, gathered children to pray for all of the children of the world with the World Mission Rosary. Bringing to every parish an increased awareness of World Mission Sunday, celebrated on the third Sunday of October each year, remains an on-going project. He hopes these events will raise awareness of the importance of mission and missionaries, whose role is “more than anything else, to bear witness” to the Gospel.


The United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.

USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website http://www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).

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Living Witness Through Presence

“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Hady Mendez, a laywoman with Franciscan Mission Service. 

Journey to Mission

Hady pictured with an alpaca.  As part of Hady's fundraising efforts earlier this year, she promised to "kiss a llama" if she got 5 donations before a certain date.  Hady got the donations she asked for but could't find a llama to kiss.  This baby alpaca was the closest thing Hady could find (several months later).

Hady pictured with an alpaca. As part of Hady’s fundraising efforts earlier this year, she promised to “kiss a llama” if she got 5 donations before a certain date. Hady got the donations she asked for but could’t find a llama to kiss. This baby alpaca was the closest thing Hady could find (several months later).

Hady Mendez began a new life in Bolivia last year when she left her twenty-year career in corporate America, donated her car, and sold her belongings to become a missioner with Franciscan Mission Service.

The journey that led her to Franciscan Mission Service began in Orlando, Florida in 2012. After experiencing the passing of her mother four years previously and the passing of her sister just one year before, she noticed in herself a desire to live more intentionally. Upon moving to Florida, she found a home in a parish active in social justice ministry, and accompanied the parish on a trip to Haiti. Witnessing the extreme poverty compelled her to action, and when she returned to Orlando, she began a 9-month course called JustFaith (www.justfaith.org). It was during this course on social justice, which encourages Christians to more fully live out the Gospels, that she decided to take a more active role in the missionary activity of the Church.

Franciscan Mission Service
Hady’s organization, Franciscan Mission Service, has been around for over twenty years and is based in Washington, DC. Franciscan Mission Service trains missioners in the spirit of St. Francis and Clare of Assisi to walk in solidarity with poor and oppressed communities all over the world. Since 1990, they have sent missioners to over nineteen countries.

A Compassionate Heart and A Creative Mind
Hady’s engagement in mission brought her to Bolivia. Working closely with six other missioners from Franciscan Mission Service in Bolivia, her ministry encompasses a wide range of volunteer activities. She supports the non-profit Manos Con Libertad (www.freehandsbolivia.org) which works to support prisoners, ex-prisoners, women in need, and their children. “Honestly, I’ve never worked for a place like Manos before,” says Hady. If someone in our circle is sick, we visit them in the hospital. If someone in our circle is going through financially hard times, we bring them food. It’s like extended family and I love it.”

Hady and fellow instructors with graduates of the first ever life skills workshop offered by Manos Con Libertad to women in the community.

Hady (second from left) and fellow instructors with graduates of the first ever life skills workshop offered by Manos Con Libertad to women in the community.

In addition, she spends two afternoons a week at an ethical manufacturing company called AHA Bolivia (www.ahabolivia.com), helping to tell the stories of the artisans and knitters who work for AHA. “Through working at AHA, I’ve learned how small the world is. And how hand-knit items, made in Bolivia with a lot of love and care, soon are enjoyed by hundreds of people all over the world. Too cool for words.”

Of all these experiences, the most rewarding part of her week is when she accompanies the women at San Sebastian Prison for Women. “It is here that I feel I am truly making a difference in the lives of others. Not because I am teaching the women anything or giving them great advice but because I am present to them. I listen to them. I let them tell their story and I don’t judge them.”

For example, one Friday, she encountered a woman who seemed downcast. After some coaxing, the woman shared her story. Like most of the other prisoners at San Sebastian, she wanted to leave. Recognizing that she could do nothing to fix this situation, Hady inquired about her family, her life outside of prison. The woman shared that she has seven kids who are living alone in another city. Her husband passed away four years ago, and with no family or friends willing to care for her children, her eldest son of twenty-three was raising his other siblings. Her son worked to support the family but sometimes the money did not go as far as is needed. Sometimes the children simply did not eat. It was a hard story for her to share and for Hady to listen to. However, Hady continued to learn more about the situation and began thinking about what she might be able to do to help. “I asked if she had ever considered exchanging letters with her children,” she said. “She said there was no way to mail them from the prison. I can help with that, I said. I can mail the letters to your children and you can have them send letters back to me that I can bring to you.”

Hady along with the students and staff at Manos Con Libertad during the "Day of Friendship" / "Dia De La Amistad".

Hady (left, second row) along with the students and staff at Manos Con Libertad during the “Day of Friendship” / “Dia De La Amistad”.

This small action meant so much to this woman. “To tell you she was elated is putting it mildly. Through this experienced I realized that I can do a lot for these women without having to do very much. What they need the most are ears to listen to the difficult stories that are their lives, a compassionate heart to share their pain and sorrow, and a creative mind to come up with new ways to approach their reality.”

Finding a Way to Live the Gospels Every Day
This way of being in the world, offering a compassionate heart and a listening ear, ready to see if there is something more that can be done, is inspired by Hady’s commitment to mission, which she sees as “finding a way to live out the Gospels every day.” Mission will always be necessary because “mission is all about bringing God’s message of peace and hope to the world. The world will always need that. Especially in certain parts of the world that deal with enormous amounts of injustice, poverty, and corruption. It will never get old to go into these global communities and say ‘What’s happening in your life right now is not fair, but God is with you and His promise is that you will have everlasting life with Him in paradise. Believe in Him and His promise.’”

Growing Deeper in Communion

Hady with Caitlin, a Maryknoll missioner, during their first climb to the Cristo statue which overlooks the city of Cochabamba.

Hady with Caitlin, a Maryknoll missioner, during their first climb to the Cristo statue which overlooks the city of Cochabamba.

When Hady returns to the U.S., Franciscan Mission Service will encourage and support her to live out the Gospel by the way she lives and works. For her, this will mean continuing to live simply, continuing to accompany others, and being a “Lifelong Missioner to North America,” as Franciscan Mission Service succinctly describes life after mission. “Most of all,” she concludes, “I see myself growing deeper in communion with a God who gave me the courage to give up everything I had and then gave me what I didn’t know I wanted or needed, plus more.”

Part of being a missioner for Hady has been sharing her story with others. You can follow her regular blog posts published by Franciscan Mission Service (www.franciscanmissionservice.org/hady_mendez). She also writes bi-weekly notes to her supporters and prayer partners. She is most proud of her missioner page on facebook (www.facebook.com/hadylamendez). Follow her facebook page for reflections, pictures and stories from her time in Bolivia.

The United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.

USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website http://www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).

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Introductions and USCMA’s Mission Monthly for August 2014

Hello friends, 

Meet USCMA's new staff members: Mary Nguyen (left) and Barbara Wheeler (right).

Meet USCMA’s new staff members: Mary Nguyen (left) and Barbara Wheeler (right).

It is with great pleasure that we introduce you to USCMA’s newest staff members, Mary Nguyen and Barbara Wheeler. You can learn more about Mary and Barbara in this month’s edition of the Mission Monthly. You will also find opportunities to serve in a mission through the Archdiocese of New Orleans, several upcoming events, and news from around the world. Click here to read the Mission Monthly. 

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USCMA’s July Mission Monthly

monthly header - june 2014
Dear friends,
 
We hope that you have had a chance to enjoy the last few weeks, whether they have provided you with an opportunity to take a vacation or spend time with family and friends. As summer begins each year, Fr. Jack initially takes time for an annual retreat, followed by weekends “on the road” preaching mission appeals. At the time of his priestly ordination 50 years ago, Fr. Jack took as his motto, “Christ sent me to preach the Gospel”. Preaching mission appeals is an enriching way of fulfilling that dream and bringing Christians to a greater awareness of what it means to be “missionary disciples”. Participating in various conferences, such as that of the American Society of Missiology, he was able to nourish that challenging dream. Meanwhile Stephen completed facilitating a seven-week faith sharing group at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and shared with the participants some of his personal experiences while on mission, as well as some experiences from USCMA’s members. Click here to read this month’s edition of USCMA’s Mission Monthly!
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USCMA’s Mission Monthly for June 2014

monthly header - june 2014

Check out the June edition of the Mission Monthly!

The June of the Mission Monthly is now online. To read this month’s edition, just click here. If you would like to receive your copy of the Mission Monthly by email, just let us know. All of here in the USCMA office would like to wish you a happy and peace filled Summer!

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Video Faces of Mission: Seeing with the Eyes of Your Heart

Faces of Mission is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we delve into the archives to bring you a video from USCMA’s initial Faces of Mission series in 2011 with Rev. Arturo Aguilar, SSC. A Columban Father, Rev. Aguilar tells us: “Mission work has a lot to do with relationship. When you have a relationship, you have to listen to others. And the call of God is to listen with an open heart — in other words, to see with the eyes of your heart.”

Together with Ms. Amy Woolam-Echeverria (Columban International JPIC Coordinator), Rev. Aguilar will present a workshop/dialogue session at the 2014 USCMA Mission Conference called Imagining Jesus’ Justice: Exploring Mission as a Prophetic Response. The Gospel reminds us that we continue Jesus’ mission. This session will look at how we understand justice and respond as Catholic in today’s world.

The 2014 USCMA Conference, Gospel Justice: A Living Challenge for the Church in Mission, will focus on how, as Pope Francis describes it, mission and justice are mutually constitutive. It will be held in Alexandria, Virginia on October 24 – 26, 2014. For more information and to register, please visit the Conference website at Gospel Justice: A Living Challenge for the Church in Mission. We hope you will all be able to join us in October.

 

USCMA smallThe United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.
USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).
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Mission as a Way of Life

“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Luisa Ortega, SFO. A laywoman and member of the Secular Franciscan Order, Luisa works with the missionary group Misión Manos Hermanas to help the people of Villa El Salvador in Peru.

 

Mission as a Way of Life

Luisa with one of the children Misión Manos Hermanas helps in Peru. Photo courtesy of Luisa Ortega, SFO.

Luisa with one of the children Misión Manos Hermanas helps in Peru.
Photo courtesy of Luisa Ortega, SFO.

Awakened to the Need for Mission
In 1989, Luisa Ortega, SFO was awakened to the need for mission. She was 26 at the time and on a trip to Guatemala. The trip had nothing to do with mission, Luisa says, but rather it was just a vacation. It was also her first time experiencing the world outside of the United States and she remembers it was “totally different from the world that I knew.” What Luisa encountered in Guatemala would have an impact on the rest of her life.

One day during her trip when Luisa was stopping to buy bread and cheese, she saw a little boy sitting on a corner covered in flies. It reminded her of images she had seen World Vision use of poor children, but she says “I never thought in my life that I would see it with my own eyes”. On her way back in her car after her shopping trip, Luisa saw many other poor children along the road and she was moved to stop and try to give them some of the bread and cheese she had just bought. It was encountering those children on that vacation in Guatemala, Luisa says, that “awoke in me the need to do mission; that opened my eyes to the reality of other people.”

Misión Manos Hermanas
Now, years after her initial awakening to mission, Luisa Ortega is a Secular Franciscan and works with the missionary group Misión Manos Hermanas to help the people of Villa El Salvador, Peru. The group was formed several years ago by Fr. Pedro Corces, a diocesan priest. One day, Fr. Pedro had received a phone call from an old teacher of his from seminary who was on mission in Peru. The missionary had not had any time off in several years and asked Fr. Pedro to come to Peru and take over for him for a couple weeks to which Fr. Pedro enthusiastically agreed.

Those two weeks in Peru profoundly affected Fr. Pedro and left a question in his heart: What am I going to do in response to what I have seen? Fr. Pedro, Luisa explains, believes that “God doesn’t bring you to a place or to someone to be there and then walk away. He brings you into people’s lives for a purpose.” And out of that initial visit, Misión Manos Hermanas was born.

Villa El Salvador, Peru. Photo courtesy of Luisa Ortega, SFO.

Villa El Salvador, Peru.
Photo courtesy of Luisa Ortega, SFO.

The group works with three parishes in Villa El Salvador, a poor community on the outskirts of Lima, promoting different environmental and medical campaigns to help educate the people “how to take care of themselves and actually to be owners of their own destiny.” Misión Manos Hermanas sends a short-term mission trip to the community for two weeks every year and spends its time in the United States fundraising and working to help the people of Villa El Salvador.

Through fundraising in the United States, Misión Manos Hermanas sponsors a clinic for the community, which previously did not have a place to get needed medical services. “There are so many people without medical service,” Luisa says, “that you see people die because they don’t have medical attention, because they can’t afford it, because there is no place to go.” Within a year, they built up and expanded the small, insufficient clinic that the area did have into a place “where it would dignify the people that would go.”

Journeying Together
Luisa believes that “mission is a response to the gift that God has given me, to be born in the Catholic faith and to be baptized”. Mission is still so important in today’s world, she says, “because I think there are so many people that long to have someone journey with them,” adding “I feel the most rewarding thing for me in mission has been journeying with the people.”

Spending time with the community in Villa El Salvador, Peru. Photo courtesy of Luisa Ortega, SFO.

Spending time with the community in Villa El Salvador, Peru.
Photo courtesy of Luisa Ortega, SFO.

In her mission work with Misión Manos Hermanas, she strives to go on that journey with the people of Villa El Salvador, focusing on creating connections and bonds over time. A missioner cannot just go to a place once and then leave, Luisa argues. For her, it is important to keep going back to the same place, to keep in touch with the people, and to let them know how privileged you are to be invited into their lives. In this way, she is truly able to journey with the people through mission and to be with some who do not have anyone to journey with them.

Mission is Mission Every Day
While planning to continue her efforts with Misión Manos Hermanas, Luisa does not see her work in Peru as the entirety of her mission work: “I think mission is mission every day. Not just going to Peru once a year, but mission to me is encountering that person every single day whoever that may be. It could be in my work, it could be in my home, it could be out in the street, anywhere where I can bring Christ to others. Mission to me is a way of life. It’s not just that I’m going to prepare a few months before and go abroad – that’s a big part of it – but it’s also having that right before me every single day.”

 

USCMA smallThe United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.
USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).
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