The Values of the World, the Truth of 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 Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP, Executive Director of Africa Faith and Justice Network.

 An Unexpected Call

Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP

Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP

Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP, grew up in Nigeria in a very large Catholic family. While teaching science and hoping to go to medical school, he received a postcard in the mail from his sister who was a nun. On the back of the postcard was an image of St. Dominic. He wrote back and forth with the Dominican Institute a few times before they invited him to come for an interview. He anxiously asked if he would be able to be a Dominican and also become a doctor. He jokes now about how they said yes, though they knew well that as soon as he started to learn theology and philosophy he would forget about becoming a doctor, which is exactly what happened.

Fr. Aniedi went home, resigned from his teaching position, and became a Dominican friar. Since joining the Dominicans, Fr. Aniedi has served as a campus minister, hospital chaplain, as well as in a parish, in the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees office at the USCCB, and now as the Executive Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

Order of St. Dominic

The Dominican Order was approved in 1216 by Pope Honorius III. St. Dominic wanted to form a group of well-educated men who knew theology to preach against heretics, particularly the Albigensian heresy. He decided that rather than living in a monastery, the world would become their monastery, sending men two by two to the big cities and universities to preach the Truth.

The Dominicans focus on Truth—“veritas”—and contemplation, both in praying and in studying the Gospel. Today, there are over 6,000 Dominicans worldwide, including male friars, nuns in monasteries, active sisters in the world, or laity.

Allowing God to Take Over

Fr. Aniedi, center, With children following Mass at an out station of  St. Stephen’s Church, Accra Ghana

Fr. Aniedi, center, with children after Mass at an out station of St. Stephen’s Church in Accra, Ghana

Fr. Aniedi recalls a story from when he was working in campus ministry at the University of Ife in Nigeria. A nun that he knew wrote and asked if he could help her brother who was attending the law school at the University of Ife, and had left the Church. Fr. Aniedi went to him over and over again, talking and trying to convince him to come back to the Church. But the young man kept arguing. One night, Fr. Aniedi left the young man’s dorm room and said, “Okay, God, I’ve done my best. If you don’t do your own, I’m out of here!” These heated discussions had been going on for months, and he did not know what else he could do.

Weeks went by, and Fr. Aniedi did not visit or talk to the young man. Then one Sunday, Fr. Aniedi was on the altar saying the Introductory Rites for Mass, and the young man walked in. Fr. Aniedi was shocked and started stammering. He recounts now that he learned a valuable lesson from this experience, quoting Isaiah: “It is you, O Lord, who has accomplished what we have done.” He tells us that once he realized his limitations and handed it over to God, God took care of it. Fr. Aniedi states that this was a very humbling, but also an empowering experience: “A humbling one on the one hand, but it also gave me the power to realize that even in our own limitations, God can use us to accomplish great things.”

Evangelizing Culture

Fr. Aniedi emphasized the importance of mission: “Mission is very important, far more important than it has ever been.” He explains that because of technology, the whole world is becoming linked. We can now call or Skype someone around the world with just the touch of a button. This allows people to communicate, but as Fr. Aniedi explains, it also allows ideologies, especially stereotypes and biases, to transfer easily between people. Whole cultures are being shaped through this influence of technology, so it is the Church’s duty to minister to these communities worldwide. Fr. Aniedi uses Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi to explain the call to evangelize culture: “The purpose of mission is to evangelize culture. Why? Because culture shapes us. How we’re thinking, how we’re seeing, culture affects how and what we hear. Culture affects how and what we relate to.” For Fr. Aniedi, this means that we must be a constant witness and presence of the Gospel in our world. Mission does not only mean traveling to other parts of the globe, but also to simply live out the Gospel in your everyday life, inviting others to see the truth.

Continuing to Be a Presence

Fr. Aniedi at a press conference at Farragut Square, Washington, DC, on “Bring Back Our Girls."

Fr. Aniedi at a press conference in Farragut Square in Washington, DC, speaking on “Bring Back Our Girls.”

Fr. Aniedi is beginning his fourth year as Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network, an organization that focuses on advocacy work for Africa and educating people on the truth. He explains that after all of his work between ministries, from being a campus minister, a hospital chaplain, working in a parish, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and now at the Africa Faith and Justice Network, he knows that he cannot solve every problem. As much as he wishes he could change the world, he knows that he can have an impact on small things, one at a time. He emphasizes the fact that he just needs to be a presence, someone who is there for others and accompanies them on their journey. He states that this is at the heart of mission work: “confronting the values of the world with the truth of the Gospel, over and over.”

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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Married to the Mission

“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 Fr. Vincent Burke, SVD, a missionary priest with the Divine Word Missionaries.

Fr. Vince beginning his mission in Ghana.

Fr. Vince featured in a Divine Word Missionaries publication, beginning his mission in Ghana.

Born in 1933 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fr. Vincent Burke, SVD felt called to mission very early in life. He attributes his awareness to this call to “the culture of service” that was prevalent at the time. As a soldier in the army, his older brother, like so many other young men and women, was serving his country during World War II. This awareness of service struck a chord with young Vince while he was reading a magazine about the exciting work Maryknoll missionaries were doing in China in the early 1940s. He felt that mission service was something he could do. Only 11 years old at the time, he confided in Sister Edwina, his 8th grade teacher. She guided him to the nearby Divine Word Missionaries. As a result, he entered their high school in Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1947.

After high school, Vince was encouraged to continue studying with the Divine Word Missionaries. Their devotion was to the poor and undermined across the world. During his years in novitiate and junior college he was able to hear stories from many returning missionaries about the work they were doing. He heard about the only seminary for African Americans that the Society of the Divine Word had opened in St. Louis. He learned of their work in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King. He discovered their work in the Philippines where one of his favorite teachers had served. And he felt excited about the chance to join the Divine Word Missionaries and to become a missionary himself.

While studying at the Divine Word Seminary in Chicago, Vince was asked to indicate his top three choices for missionary service. First and second were the Southern United States and the Philippines. The third, however, was Ghana. On the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1961, Fr. Vince was called into the provincial office and given his mission assignment. “Father”, they said, “you are going to Ghana, West Africa.” And Fr. Vince recalls well his reaction: “I said, ‘Praise be Jesus Christ!’” His appointment to Ghana marked the beginning of 43 years of service to a country he soon fell in love with.

Fr. Vince (center) with some of his students.

Fr. Vince (center) with some of his students.

The missionary work in Ghana imposed certain requirements. Because his main ministry would be to teach English as a second language, Fr. Vince began by obtaining a degree in English Literature from Catholic University, with a minor in Linguistics from Georgetown University. At age 30, after acquiring his teaching certificate which affirmed that he was qualified to teach English, Geography, and German, and 19 years after he first felt called to be a missionary, Fr. Vince arrived in Ghana.

Fr. Vince’s first assignment was at St. Peter’s Secondary School. He was involved with the Ghana Education Service for the next 33 years, where he rose through the ranks as the superintendent, director, and eventually, became the headmaster of schools.

Bringing a Broader Vision

Fr. Vince in 1987, by the chapel cornerstone in Ghana.

Fr. Vince in 1987, by the chapel cornerstone in Ghana.

Having served as a missionary for over 43 years, Fr. Vince has a wealth of wisdom toshare. He is convinced of the necessity of delving deeply into the culture where one is serving. Fr. Vince says,Missionaries bring a broader vision to the people they live with and minister to. We first learn the language of the people, along with their culture and cultural signals, and finally minister the Gospel of Christ to them within their own language and context.”

A Student Becomes a Bishop

In 1966, Fr. Vince taught English classes to students at the junior seminary. One of his fondest memories is that of a very bright student who, nevertheless, fell asleep in his class. “His name was Charles. I still remember what happened. I took a blackboard eraser, threw it at him, and said ‘Charles, wake up!’” Fr. Vince goes on to recount, “He woke up alright; so much so that he decided to become a priest! After his ordination, he was sent to Rome to study, and then he came back and he was made bishop of our very diocese!” 30 years after throwing that blackboard eraser at Charles, the provincial of the Divine Word Missionaries in Ghana had a favor to ask of Fr. Vince. He was asked to hand over the school to the new bishop. “So here I am, 30 years later, handing over the keys to the guy I threw the eraser at… a moment in my life, I tell you.”

Closing Words from a Life of Mission

Fr. Vince (center) with students in 1992.

Fr. Vince (center) with parishioners in 1992.

Fr. Vince left Ghana in 2009, after retiring from teaching at the newly established Catholic University of Ghana. He now spends his time visiting parishes and schools to talk about mission. It is clear that Ghana is still where his heart is. Reflecting on his time there, he likened his relationship with Ghana to a marriage. Having learned the language and immersed himself in the culture for so many years, he had done just what a spouse does in order to better love their husband or wife. Fr. Vince married Ghana, for the sake of Jesus and the Church.

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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Finding God in the Darkest Corners

“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 Sr. Irene Baquiran, MQHM, a missionary sister from the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.

Called to Help the Lost and Forgotten

Sr. Irene, (seated, bottom left), with the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries and His Eminence, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of the Philippines.

Sr. Irene, (seated, bottom left), with the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries and His Eminence, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of the Philippines.

Sister Irene Baquirin, MQHM, of the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries is a member of a community of Sisters in Cebu, Philippines that have dedicated their lives to rescuing women and young girls from prostitution. Four to five times each week, the Sisters go out to the night clubs and bars, dressed in civilian clothing. Speaking with the girls undercover, the Sisters tell them about the educational and housing resources that the Sisters can offer them. Sister Irene explains that these girls are usually minors, some sold into prostitution by their own families in order to raise money. They do not know any other world.

Sr. Irene’s calling comes from a deep sense of the urgent need for a Christ-centered response to the grave problem of human trafficking in the Philippines. When asked why she felt called to be a missionary, Sr. Irene’s answer is simple: “We are inspired to do it because no one takes care of them.” She adds, “This is not normal, and it touched my heart. They are only little girls. They’re only kids.” They are innocent, and they have become part of this hidden world in which they are forced to trade their childhood in an attempt to escape extreme poverty.

Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries

The logo of Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.

The logo of Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.

Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries were founded in 1996 and dedicate themselves to imitating Mary’s virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The organization was formally established by His Eminence, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop of Cebu, in 2000.

They have established a center in Cebu for the women and young girls that they rescue. It is called the Home of Love, and here they care for the women and girls in a way that allows them to realize their own dignity and worth. They currently have around 50 women and children under their care. One of the most important resources that they offer is education. They send the girls to school, and even home school those who are embarrassed to go to a normal school. They also teach the girls basic life skills such as cooking, baking, and sewing. These skills enable the girls to leave the center one day and be able to make a life for themselves without prostitution, giving them hope for a better future.

A Saving Grace

There is one particular story that is close to Sister Irene’s heart. The very first woman they helped turn her life around was Melissa. Only 18 years old, she decided to accept the Sisters’ invitation and to leave her work on the streets. “The saddest part of Melissa’s story was that she was sold by her own mother. The family lived in extreme poverty, and one way for Melissa’s mother to feed her children was to have one less mouth to feed.” After some time, Melissa ran away, but continued to live on the streets. She joined some other girls that said they knew a way they could make money. Another community involved in work similar to the outreach ministry of MQHM attempted to help Melissa, but they were unable to offer her the resources she needed, and she ended up back on the streets. Finally, she found the MQHM Sisters in 2005, and told them she wanted to go with them.

Two days after Melissa was rescued, her body became bloated. Sister Irene rushed her to the hospital and discovered that Melissa was in critical condition. She needed an immediate operation, but they had no way to pay for it. As they tried to find sources to pay, the hospital and the doctors volunteered to perform the operation for free. The operation was done successfully, and Melissa fully recovered. She was eventually able to leave the center and make a completely different life for herself. Now Melissa stands as a living witness to the instrumental work that is done by the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.

His Will Be Done

Sister Irene and her community are truly acting in a way that follows Christ’s Will. They allow the Lord to work through them as they reach out to the outcasts of society and those most vulnerable. However, Sister Irene acknowledges that it is not always easy: “This is tough work. So sometimes we’re afraid…” But, she quickly adds that she finds strength in knowing that it is not her work, but God’s. Nothing they are doing is for themselves, but rather it is all for God.

Sister Irene states that they have to work with God. “He gives us 50 percent, and we have to give the other 50 percent”. But together, we can make “100 percent for peace, and glory, and honor.” It is through Christ’s Love that they have been able to help so many girls. They hope that others may hear their stories and be moved to share their gifts and talents to also help these beautiful women and girls. 

Looking Forward

The Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries, whose pink habits are "the color of joy."

The Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries, whose pink habits are “the color of joy.”

Most of the future plans for the Sisters involve expansion: expanding housing opportunities to benefit more women and children, and expanding the educational resources they can offer. Sister Irene explained that their center was located in the area that was hit by a super typhoon and an earthquake last year. The building has been damaged so badly that they have had to shut it down to rebuild. They are currently trying to raise money to rebuild so that the girls still have a safe home. In the meantime, the Sisters are spread out among communities around the region. They are hoping to have the building completed by the summer.

Although they are rebuilding their current center, the community is constantly growing, and the real goal is to expand the center. Sister Irene said that they hope to find a used building in which they can hold 500 women and children. Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries have become witnesses of Christ’s love in Cebu, a love which continues to expand and grow.

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Healing the Body and the Soul

“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 Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer, MMM, a missionary in Uganda.

Finding a Call

Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer, MMM

Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer, MMM

Sr. Margaret Anne felt called to be a sister early in life, in the fourth grade. But by the time she reached high school, she had different plans for herself: she wanted to become a nurse and to have a family. However, in her junior year of high school, a group of Sisters from the Medical Missionaries of Mary visited her religion class. The Sisters showed a video called, “The Visitation,” explaining their particular charism of caring for African women in childbirth and how they saw the charism as closely linked with the experience of Mary caring for an expectant Elizabeth in the Gospels. Impressed by their simplicity and their joy, which seemed to radiate from them like an inner glow, Margaret Anne felt moved but not yet ready.

The Sisters had left her with a folder and a packet of information. On the front of the folder was a beautiful image of a Sister caring for a leprosy patient with the words: “Heal the sick and tell them the Kingdom of God has come unto you.” To this day she vividly remembers keeping the folder for a year, poring over the materials many times while struggling with her decision. With the quiet support of her mother, a year later, Margaret Anne decided that she would join the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

The Medical Missionaries of Mary

The logo of the Medical Missionaries of Mary

The logo of the Medical Missionaries of Mary

The Medical Missionaries of Mary were founded in 1937 under remarkable circumstances. An Irishwoman named Marie Martin, after experiences helping the sick in Malta and in Nigeria, decided that she wanted to found a medical congregation of Sisters to help women in childbirth. At that time, it was against canon law for women in religious life to practice obstetrics and surgery. She began to let others know of her wish to change this rule, and along the way met another woman, Anna Dengel, who also wanted to found a medical congregation of Sisters. Marie Martin and Anna Dengel worked through various bishops from around the world to petition Rome to change canon law and to allow the women to train Sisters to be medical missionaries.

Marie Martin waited fourteen years, patiently trusting in Divine Providence, in spite of some detractors who referred to her as “Mad Marie Martin.” Her dream came to fruition on February 11, 1936, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, when Pope Pius XI changed the rule. One year later, in 1937, the congregation was officially recognized by the Church. The missionaries began to work in Africa, with a special mission to help poor women through their pregnancies.

Friendship in Mission

“Uganda was my first mission,” says Sr. Margaret Anne fondly, “I think people usually love their first mission.” It was there that she had an encounter with a woman who has been part of her life ever since. When she was still a young Sister, she met a middle class woman, who had three sons who had fallen ill and were near death. Sr. Margaret Anne arrived on the scene just in time, and referred them to a specialist that no one else had thought of. Because of her quick thinking and correct diagnosis, they all recovered their health. The mother, whose name was Flavia, responded to this by inviting Sr. Margaret Anne to her house for a lovely dinner where they truly became friends. Astonishingly, Flavia told all her friends she was glad her children had become sick because if they had not fallen ill, she never would have met Sr. Margaret Anne. Still evidently moved by the sincerity and depth of feeling in this statement, Sr. Margaret Anne remembers, “I nearly fell off my chair. I couldn’t believe she could say that and I really felt she was sincere.”

Unfortunately, her time in Uganda was abruptly ended when the United States ended the coffee trade. Political unrest made the situation volatile for missionaries, and the bishop and the United States government asked her to leave. Sr. Margaret Anne went to Tanzania for the next eleven years. Because of the political situation, she was forced to leave quickly without saying goodbye, which made the hasty farewell quite painful for Sr. Margaret Anne.

Eleven years later, when Sr. Margaret Anne finally was able to return to Uganda, one of Flavia’s sons had died of HIV/AIDS. Sr. Margaret Anne accompanied Flavia in her pain, which was more excruciating due to the shame associated with AIDS at that time. “She couldn’t accept that he had died of AIDS. She said that it was an unknown illness.” Still, in her suffering, Sr. Margaret Anne says, “I felt very close to that woman.”

In Ugandan funerals, a particular kind of tree bark is used to bury the body. Through a very extensive and physically demanding process, they transform the tree bark into a burial cloth. Flavia once gave Sr. Margaret Anne a wallet made out of this tree bark. “I want to be buried with the wallet that she gave me,” says Sr. Margaret Anne. “Flavia will come with me to the grave.”

Love is Purified by Loving

Sr. Margaret Anne planning a mission education lesson with Kate and Billy

Sr. Margaret Anne planning a mission education lesson with Kate and Billy

Sr. Margaret Anne acknowledges that it could be very easy for missionary Sisters to become discouraged. Mission is difficult, demographics show that fewer women are choosing this way of life, and her congregation does not shy away from some of the most challenging situations. In fact, the Medical Missionaries of Mary were among the first missionaries to go into Rwanda and offer medical assistance after the 1994 Genocide.

But the work that they do is urgent and saves lives. Furthermore, it is clear that for Sr. Margaret Anne, the way that she and the missionaries carry out this medical work is vital and unique. The internationality of her community, with 120 African Sisters, is something that they try to live authentically, helping each other to be their truest and best selves before God and each other. In the face of challenges, Sr. Margaret Anne says, “I think you just try to be faithful.” She remembers the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “Love is purified by loving.”

Waiting with Gratitude 

Sr. Margaret Anne teaches mission education at a Catholic school in New Jersey.

Sr. Margaret Anne teaches mission education at a Catholic school in New Jersey.

These days, Sr. Margaret Anne is living this faithfulness through mission education at various Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of New York. Due to macular degeneration, she has to re-evaluate on a yearly basis whether or not she can drive to and from the mission education programs. She resides in the Bronx where she is “available for obedience,” though she clarifies that these days, obedience in consecrated life means that she also discerns with the community where she ought to go, rather than simply following orders. In the meantime, she waits with joy and enjoys the opportunity to instill a love for mission in Catholic schools. “I am convinced that God wants you to be happy, that he leads you to happiness,” she says. “And I am very happy. I am grateful for everything.”

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USCMA’s Mission Monthly: December 2014 Edition

USCMA Staff Christmas Photo 2014

USCMA Staff Christmas Photo 2014

The December 2014 edition of USCMA’s Mission Monthly is now online. This month we share news of USCMA’s new Reflection Guide for the 2014 Annual Conference, the Executive Director Search, news and events from USCMA’s members, and news from around the mission world. Click here to read the December 2014 Mission Monthly.

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Inviting Others to Put Their Faith into Action

“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 Brother Bernie Spitzley of the Divine Word Missionaries who has been a missionary in Jamaica for the past fifteen years.

Br. Bernie, top left, with Bible group in Bethany, Jamaica.

Br. Bernie, top left, with Bible group in Bethany, Jamaica.

As a young boy in the Midwest, Bernie Spitzley was always fascinated by the stories of missions and missionaries. The idea of going to Papua New Guinea and living on a plantation captivated his imagination. His hometown, Westphalia, Michigan had deep German Catholic roots, and his parish priest advised anyone interested in missionary activity to visit the Divine Word Missionaries, whose founder was German. As Bernie grew older and was introduced to the Divine Word Missionaries through his parish priest, his idea of mission developed and grew into something more tangible and real; no longer living in the world of fantasy and romance, he saw that mission was difficult and required real, hands-on work, and he looked forward to the challenge and to the promise. Through the witness of the Divine Word Missionaries, Bernie saw that “there is something fulfilling about working with other men and trying to live Gospel values.” With this in mind, he began discerning with the Divine Word Missionaries and eventually decided to become a Brother.

Reflecting on this vocation now, Brother Bernie notes that his understanding and appreciation of the vows that he took long ago has deepened with time. From his idealistic boyhood dream has grown a profound understanding of these vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity as counter-cultural signs of true freedom. “This is the age of iPhones and iPods,” he says, noting the emphasis on “I” and “me.” It is in this world that he has taken a vow of obedience, “listening to God and my community to decide what I am going to do.” Furthermore, Bro. Bernie says, “in a world that likes big cars and bling, I can live a simple life of a vow of poverty. In the world that is so caught up in sex and using other people, I see the full person… Because of my relationship with God, I can see and relate to all as my brother and sister.”

Divine Word Missionaries

The freedom so evident in Bro. Bernie’s life flows from his vocation as part of the community of the Divine Word Missionaries. It is a unique Society with a rich, multi-cultural history in America, celebrating 140 years in 2015. Their Society founded the first seminary for African-Americans in the 1930s. In 1975, with the fall of Vietnam, the Divine Word Missionaries opened their college to Vietnamese refugees. With members from many different countries and backgrounds, the Society reflects “a microcosm of what the reign of God is all about. Jesus prayed that all may be one.”

Bro. Bernie’s vocation within this Society as a brother is an important aspect of how he approaches his missionary work. He says that to be a brother means that “I am an equal with you. I am not above or below you. That is what Jesus did… Almost every miracle, he asks the people to do something with him. Jesus is always inviting people to put their faith into action. As a brother, he works with them as an equal.”

 Experience of Brotherhood

Br. Bernie explaining the Trinity using a Jamaican fruit with three parts, called Ackee.

Br. Bernie explaining the Trinity using a Jamaican fruit with three parts, called Ackee.

For the past fifteen years, Bro. Bernie has worked with others as an equal in Jamaica, accompanying them as a brother as he helped to build homes with Food for the Poor as well as helped to form Bible sharing groups to introduce people of all ages to Jesus, their brother.

One of these Bible sharing groups was particularly memorable for Bro. Bernie. It consisted of a group of very small children, along with a few women who helped him with the class. These women wanted to give the children presents for Christmas. Bro. Bernie was hesitant, because he did not want to be known as someone above them, bringing gifts, but someone who shared the Bible and Jesus with them. However, with Food for the Poor, they were able to provide some small gifts. The thirty children who came regularly received bags of goods with their name. As soon as they opened the bags, they immediately began to share with those who were not there regularly and did not have a bag. Before he knew it, the children had asked the women and Bro. Bernie to sit down. The children danced with joy. “Whenever I hear the ‘Little Drummer Boy’ at Christmas, I think of that story,” says Bro. Bernie. “These kids had nothing to give us but they could dance. That’s probably the best Christmas I ever had.”

To Bring the Kingdom of God on Earth

Bro. Bernie remembers an experience in the fields of Jamaica, where he was confronted by a sugar cane cutter named Sylvester, who told him that the Bible sharing was a waste of his time. Sylvester drew a line in the sand with a machete, saying that it represented the first line of the Bible – God created, and it was good. Then he began to draw successive lines, each one smaller than the next, representing the next stories in the Bible. Adam and Eve sinned. Cain killed Abel. Each successive line in the sand grew smaller, as Sylvester explained that with each of these actions, the good had diminished until now, here in Jamaica with crime and extreme poverty, the good had not only diminished, but was now nonexistent. “You’re wasting your time with these kids,” he assured Bro. Bernie.

One of the youngest members of Bible sharing during a Lenten reflection: “Unless a grain of wheat should fall and die, it remains a single grain. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” John 12:24

One of the youngest members of Bible sharing during a Lenten reflection: “Unless a grain of wheat should fall and die, it remains a single grain. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” John 12:24

Reflecting now on the importance and relevance of mission in today’s world, Bro. Bernie recalls Sylvester’s diminishing lines in the sand, and observes that Sylvester saw only part of the story. In the Bible, there were many stories of the People of God being unfaithful. But Sylvester’s diagram of how bad it was left out an important part of the story – the fact that Christ came into the world and drew many people to himself, especially after the Resurrection and Pentecost.

This is the world that we are part of, Bro. Bernie says. There are many things wrong with the world. But now we are called to accept the invitation to follow Jesus and make our own marks, expanding and bringing the kingdom of God here on earth.

Moving Forward

Bro. Bernie continues, “We need to be like glasses of water overflowing. Rather than just enjoying a good sermon or a song at Mass once a week, we must reflect on the experience of Christ in our lives so that we are overflowing with joy and ready to share Christ with others, ready to invite others into their experience just as Christ was always inviting others to share in his life and help to build the Kingdom of God.” This is what Bro. Bernie sees as his mission moving forward: inviting people to reflect on their experience of Christ and to bring that experience to others.

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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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