Falling in Love with 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 Rhiannon Richards, a senior at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and student intern at the United States Catholic Mission Association. 

Rhiannon Peru

Rhiannon Richards at Macchu Picchu

 

During this past summer, I had the opportunity to go on a short-term mission trip with my parish to Lima, Peru. This was the first mission trip I had ever been on, and it was quite reassuring for me. I have wanted to do two years of mission work after I graduate college for a while now, but this trip helped solidify that I am truly being called to mission.

I had been preparing for my mission trip for almost a year, and the original plan was for us to work at our twin-parish in Tanzania. When there were attacks in Kenya in April, our youth minister decided it would be better if we went to Peru instead. As she had been there before, she easily threw together the new plan. I had been really looking forward to Africa, so I was disappointed when the trip was changed. I decided to still participate, however, because I wanted to still do something.

Pamplona Alta

Pamplona Alta

The first few days we were in Peru, we did the typical tourist things, such as Machu Picchu and seeing Downtown Lima. Then we finally began our work project. We worked with Christian Life Movement, an ecclesial movement that began in Peru and includes both lay and religious members. With the Christian Life Movement members, we worked in Pamplona Alta, a shanty-town area just outside of Lima. The entire area is built on a mountain, and the people who live there have to walk up and down the steep, rocky hills everyday. Christian Life Movement, with the help of outside volunteer groups such as my parish group, builds concrete staircases along sections of the mountain so that the people may be able to travel more easily. In the course of five days, our group mixed and laid 106 concrete stairs up one of the hills.

Passing Concrete

Passing buckets of concrete

When we first arrived in Lima, I did not like the atmosphere, and I thought I would be disappointed with the trip. The first time we drove into Pamplona Alta, however, my entire mindset changed. I fell in love with Pamplona Alta. During one of the first few days, I walked up to the top of the hill we were working on and just looked out over the valley. The sun was out, which is unusual for that time of the year, and so everything was lit up. It was beautiful. I was reminded that these were people’s homes, and they took pride in them just as much as we do with ours. One thing that I had not thought about, but somewhat shocked me, was that every house had a lock on it. The people live in small homes made of wood, brick, and scraps. It would be extremely easy to break in, but they still value their homes and want to keep them safe, just like we do.

Being able to work in Pamplona Alta was one of the first times in my life

Celebrating with Pamplona Alta

Celebrating the new staircase with the community of Pamplona Alta

where I felt like I was actually making a positive impact. We were just mixing and building concrete stairs, but it was something that the people actually needed. When we had a large celebration the final day, and the people of the area cooked a meal for us, we were able to see the joy that we had brought to the people of Pamplona Alta. I realized that they were not only joyful because we had built stairs for them, but also because we had come. We had shown them that they mattered and that we cared. They are not forgotten.

Become a Member Revised

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Julie Lupien Receives First USCMA Award Dedicated to Pope Francis

Julie awaiting award

Julie Lupien, Pope Francis Mission Award Recipient

I had an amazing experience recently at the 2015 Mission Congress in Houston, Texas.  Unlike the usual yearly conference of the U.S. Catholic Mission Association (USCMA), every five years USCMA coordinated a Mission Congress which brings together a large variety of other national groups who focus on mission.  Each year USCMA presents their Annual Mission Award.  At the award ceremony Fr. Jack Nuelle, MS, the executive director of the USCMA, explained that this was the last year they would be giving this specific award.  The final recipient of the USCMA Annual Mission Award is Pope Francis.  Then Fr. Jack went on to explain that henceforth the annual USCMA award will be known as the “Pope Francis Mission Award” …and I was to be the first recipient!

This was a very emotional moment for me.  I was flooded with memories of discerning my call to mission right out of college.  I was filled with gratitude for the leaders of the Volunteer Missionary Movement (VMM) and how they helped me to understand mission in a way that not only impacted my years in Zimbabwe and St. Kitts, but my whole life.  I kept thinking of my students in Zimbabwe and the parishioners in St. Kitts and all that they taught me about what matters in life and about a God I didn’t know until I met them.  I laughed to myself when I thought that the goofy Julie, who had barely been out of Illinois and just wanted to help people, was now getting an award for mission.

I still don’t have words to express how it feels to receive such an award.  To be recognized by USCMA is a great honor.  To be the first to receive an award named after Pope Francis is pretty overwhelming and humbling.  What have I done to be worthy of an award named after Pope Francis?  As I went to the podium to receive the award I kept thinking about the interview the pope gave on the plane back to Europe following his visit to the United States.  He reminded the reporters that he’s not a media star but the Servant of the Servants of God.  Me too!

From Mission To Mission was started 35 years ago by a group of returned missioners to help others returning to the U.S. who struggle with the difficult transition called re-entry.  Over the years we have expanded to meet the changing face of mission.  We serve lay, religious, and clergy who serve long-term and short-term, domestically and internationally, from preparation to re-entry.

 

Julie and some board members

Julie Lupien and some of the members of the From Mission to Mission board

After being presented with the award I was given the chance to say a few words. Throughout the conference I kept seeing people I had served over the years who represented the different faces of mission.  So, I asked them to stand, one group at a time.  I began with my partners, those who have served on our board of directors.  Next were those for whom our organization was created – the returned missioners who had attended one of our re-entry workshops.  I went on to include those programs and congregations I’ve worked with, and those I’ve helped prepare for mission.  It was powerful to see the number of people standing, scattered throughout this large gathering.  It was an important witness to see who was standing – young and old, lay people, religious and priest, those who had served 40 years and those who serve one week at a time.  This is mission…and From Mission To Mission serves them all!

 

People effected by her min istry begin to stand

Missioners who have been served by From Mission to Mission begin to stand.

I asked these missioners to stand so that I could publicly thank them for the impact they’ve had on my life.  I have been the director of From Mission To Mission for 14 years.  I’m sure you can imagine the stories I’ve heard over the years.  I’ve heard the most amazing stories of the power of love, faith and compassion.  Unfortunately, many of the stories have also been about pain and suffering.  Friends and family love to hear the positive stories of life in mission.  From Mission To Mission was created because not everyone understands or can listen to the difficult things that missioners experience.  We understand because we have lived it ourselves.  From Mission To Mission is a safe place where missioners can come and tell the real, unedited version of their story.  We are that place where missioners can talk about what happened to their spirit as they witnessed suffering, experienced disappointment or felt guilt for leaving.  That place where missioners tell the truth about their fear in the midst of war or natural disaster.  That place where they finally share that they themselves were attacked or assaulted.  That place where they can admit that returning to the U.S. has been the hardest part of their experience.  This is what I thought about when I looked at those standing throughout the hall.  So, my tears in receiving this award were partly because I know the difference that From Mission To Mission makes in the lives of missioners.   I have seen how burdened or broken missioners have been when they came to us; and later I watched them leave with new energy, hope and direction to continue to serve God and God’s people.  My tears were also in gratitude for the connection I feel for those I have served.  It’s a privilege to care for and support those who have done so much for the people of the world.  To be given an award is wonderful, but the honor I am most grateful for is servant to the servants of God.

By now From Mission To Mission has served hundreds, if not thousands of missioners and volunteers.  I celebrate our history and the community of support that has gathered around this work for thirty-five years.  As I continue to reflect on and celebrate this important honor I received, I invite you to help this vital work continue.  To contribute, please go to our website, www.missiontomission.org and click on How You Can Help.  Thank you.

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Serving People Without Barriers: A Missioner’s Journey

“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. Mary McGlone, CSJ, a former Board President of USCMA, who recently attended Mission Congress 2015 and shared her story. 

About Sr. Mary McGlone, CSJ

Sr. Mary McGlone, CSJ

Sr. Mary McGlone, CSJ

Sr. Mary McGlone, CSJ is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She has been actively involved mission work in multiple places around the world, in very different circumstances. Her story is one that teaches us how even those who are part of the Church need to be served as well.

Shortly after Sr. Mary made her final vows, she went to work as a missioner, serving alongside other Sisters at their Vice Province in Peru. Although she realized that she had been a missioner since her Baptism, it was while working in Peru that she fell in love with mission, and she remained there for the next seven years.

Sr. Mary McGlone, CSJ, in Ecuador

Sr. Mary McGlone, CSJ, in Ecuador

Peru was not Sr. Mary’s only experience with mission. She also spent some time in Ecuador working with FUVIRESE, a foundation to serve people with disabilities. Then about 25 years ago, she was invited to go to Romania and help Sisters coming out from behind the Iron Curtain. She was hesitant at first because she knew Spanish and did not know much about Romania, but she eventually agreed to go. Sr. Mary and Sisters of St. Joseph from other Congregations worked with Sisters together on the local and national levels.

Sr. Mary McGlone, CSJ, with sisters from Romania.

Sr. Mary McGlone, CSJ, with sisters from Romania.

When Sr. Mary first arrived in Romania, the Provincial asked each of them what they did, and Sr. Mary told her that she taught theology. They immediately recruited her to teach New Testament every morning and afternoon until they left. Sr. Mary points out that although they were speaking to consecrated religious Sisters, “Vatican II was like a rumor they had heard about. Theirs had been an underground church, behind the iron curtain, out of touch with the life of the worldwide Church.  They even typed their own prayer books on typewriters that were checked by the security police to make sure they were only being used for what they said they were being used for.” These Sisters desperately needed help getting acquainted with what the rest of the world and the Church had been doing. That was the missionary challenge Sr. Mary and her companions were faced with.

When the time came for Sr. Mary and the other US Sisters to return to the United States, one of the young Sisters from Europe who spoke English accompanied them to the airport, and their conversation took an astonishing turn. Sr. Mary’s Congregation no longer wore a formal habit, whereas most of the Sisters they met in Romania did wear the habit. Sr. Mary asked the young Romanian Sister if she thought more Sisters or fewer would wear the formal habit in the future. The Sister answered eagerly, “All of them will! It’s a sign of freedom!” This surprised Sr. Mary, because, as she points out, “It’s exactly the same value expressed in opposite ways. For them it’s the sign of freedom that you can be religious, whereas for us it’s a sign of freedom to be able to relate to people without any barriers.”

Being Willing To Go Where Needed

Sr. Mary’s story is one that tells us of the importance of the universal Church and how we can all minister to each other. Even when you go to another, unknown part of the world, you can still use your skills and serve all of those who truly need your help.

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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The Border Reality As 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. Michael Montoya, MJ, previous Executive Director of USCMA who currently serves at a parish in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.

 The Border Reality

Fr. Michael leads prayer in one of the homes of the colonia.

Fr. Michael Montoya MJ, right, leads prayer in one of the homes of the colonia.

A distressed 29 year old gentleman came knocking at one of our parishioner’s house. He just escaped from a “sequester house” where he was being held without consent after being abducted from El Salvador and forcibly brought to the US. His family in El Salvador and U.S. were being asked to pay or he will be killed. Recently, the decomposing body of a 15 year old from Guatemala was seen close to the parish. Apparently, he was left by his group when he could no longer go on. In broad daylight, tons of marijuana have been confiscated after a violent chase, with the criminal driving to the waters of the Rio Grande River where armed men in motor boat were waiting to fetch him. In another case, more than 500 gun shots were exchanged between the police and a gang leader who lived right across the street from the church. These and many more happened within a span of two months.

Much closer to home, within a span of one week, two vandalisms happen in the church property. First, something solid was thrown on the façade of one of the churches that cracked open the stucco and bending the metal frame that holds it. Then one evening, the alarm of the parish office went off and we found later that someone has broken into the office breaking one of the windows of the office. These experiences are part of a number of stealing and vandalisms that happened in the churches of the parish in the past few years. The worst of these vandalisms happened in one of the churches where the Blessed Sacrament was desecrated. All of these experiences promote a culture of fear, of anger, of resignation. Violence and crimes in the midst of poverty seem too commonplace that inflict pain and burden on the good people that live in the area.

The ironic part is that these things happen despite the increase in number of public safety patrol units in the area. Military patrols can now be seen along the borders, together with Border Patrols, Sheriffs and the local police. Helicopters hover every so often. There are blimps stationed in 3 sections along the border, two of which are within the parish, monitoring every movement along the border.

The Response of the Gospel

The procession ritualizes the community’s prayer and desire to re-claim their community for our Catholic faith

The procession ritualizes the community’s prayer and desire to re-claim their community for our Catholic faith

This is the context of mission along the borders of the Rio Grande River. A culture of fear and violence is blatantly forcing itself onto people. In an area considered one of the poorest in the country, the poor are most vulnerable, and in particular, our young people in the communities.

As the Diocese of Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores said, “Eleven- or 12-year-olds are making decisions about whether to make money quick and easy, or risk being beat up if they choose to live an honest kid’s life and go to church or go to religious education classes. The border violence is not simply about security around the line of demarcation between two sovereign nations; battles are being fought on the borders of the soul that mark the difference between life and death, grace and sin. The conscience of an 11-year-old is the principal battleground in the current border wars.”

The border reality is mission! It is frontier situation both in its literal sense and its

Fr. Michael blesses the horse riders before the cabalgatta.

Fr. Michael blesses the horse riders before the cabalgatta.

missional challenge. It is within this context of the border where the call to proclaim the Good News is exigent. It is within this context of violence, poverty, isolation, fear and marginalization that we as a Church must bring the Good News of hope, peace, welcome, and love. It is within this destructive culture that the Good News need to be proclaimed loudly and clearly. It is within this human divide that we must proclaim a church that knows no borders and our God whose mercy and love is real. As Catholics, baptized in mission, it is incumbent upon us Christians to respond not so much with the political discourse or party lines. For us Catholics, there is only one discourse – the Gospel. There is only one party – God’s. There is only one response – mission!

The Missionaries of Jesus 

Missionaries of Jesus priests, Michael Montoya and Rey Tejico share a light moment with Deacon Albert Chapa before they perform the ritual by the Rio Grande River and lead the people in procession.

Missionaries of Jesus priests, Michael Montoya and Rey Tejico share a light moment with Deacon Albert Chapa before they perform the ritual by the Rio Grande River and lead the people in procession.

It is within this perspective that the Missionaries of Jesus has sent Fr. Michael Montoya, MJ to help establish a brand new parish along the border. As Bishop Flores told us, “The church needs to be among the poor.” And in what the Bishop considers as the poorest section of this mission Diocese that the parish of Saint Anne was established on September 8, 2013. It is comprised of 4 poor church communities – Saint Anne in north Peñitas, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Sullivan City, Saint Michael the Archangel in Los Ebanos, and Saint Juan Diego in Citrus City. The parish extends around 20 miles east to west and 4-15 miles north to south, with about 10 miles of the parish bordering literally the Rio Grande River separating US and Mexico. The new parish also crosses demarcation lines between cities and counties.

When the Missionaries of Jesus started, we did not even have a place to live. Up until recently, one of the sacristies became the parish office. We cannot afford to hire a full time staff. For most part, the parish operates with volunteers, from the office work to the religious education. We simply cannot afford to hire a full time secretary or a religious education director. In fact, the parish could not even afford my salary. In a place that can easily use two priests and a full time staff, we are left to find creative ways to respond to the great demands of the mission entrusted to us.

Together with the financial challenge is the challenge to create a new identity as a parish.

Street liturgies counter the culture of fear and reaches out to the remote areas of our communities

Street liturgies counter the culture of fear and reaches out to the remote areas of our communities

The four church communities used to belong to two different parishes, and with one church being run and operated independently from the parish. The distance from one church community to another makes it a challenge to bring together the communities as one parish family. It does not help that there are no public transport system in the communities.

Building A Culture of Encounter In Border Parishes

Fr. Michael visits the sick and homebound parishioners. At 106 years old, Doña Ketita can tell you stories of Pancho Villa and the Mexican revolution

Fr. Michael visits the sick and homebound parishioners. At 106 years old, Doña Ketita can tell you stories of Pancho Villa and the Mexican revolution

This year we are focusing on creating “una cultura de encuentro” (a culture of encounter) where we grow as friends and disciples of Jesus. It is a culture that celebrates faith and life. It is a culture of welcome and of convivio (community sharing and celebration). It is an alternative culture where the values of the Gospel is promoted, lived and celebrated.  To do this, we launched a holistic evangelization process – from liturgies to leadership and development training, youth encounters, establishing faith communities, outreach to the remote colonias, and creating a new program for Christian Faith formation that focuses on the growth in faith of our young people and not simply receiving sacraments. Through para-liturgical celebrations, we also reach out to the remote parts of the parish, reclaiming the whole community and our families for our faith. We celebrate our faith through the richness of the Tradition and traditions that God has blessed us.

The border reality is no joke. People live in constant danger. Poverty has a name and a

Fr. Michael Montoya, MJ, center, with Diocesan Deacon Jesse Garza and Fr. Primo, MJ

Fr. Michael Montoya, MJ, center, with Diocesan Deacon Jesse Garza and Fr. Primo, MJ

human face. We live in what others call a militarized zone. And it is in the midst of these challenges that we are called to respond as a church. Yes, I say, we because we are truly companions on this faith journey. We have a very dynamic community despite the poverty and other challenges. It is a community with deep faith in God and zeal for everything that gives life. It is a people that embrace Christianity and its long and beautiful traditions handed on to them by their ancestors in faith. But with a lot of evil forces competing with the love of God, we would like as a church to be able to give our people, particularly the children, a clear choice – a simple one for most of us here, but radical in our context, for them to choose faith over drugs, to choose the church over gangs, to choose God over the lure of easy money. As we begin to walk as a newly established parish, I would like to ask you to please pray for us and to continue supporting us. We would like to help build this newly established parish in the way God calls us to. Like a baby that is recently born, we too need a lot of help to survive and eventually to begin to walk on our own. Thank you for partnering with us in serving the least of our brothers and sisters.

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I, Too, Am A Missionary: Mission in the United States

“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. Joanna Okereke, HHCJ, of the Handmaids of the Holy Child of Jesus and Assistant Director of the USCCB Office for Cultural Diversity in the Church. She will be attending the Mission Congress in Houston, TX from Oct. 1 – 4, 2015, and has previously spoken at the 2010 Mission Congress. 

Called to be an Angel

Sr. Joanna Okereke, HHCJ

Sr. Joanna Okereke, HHCJ

Sr. Joanna Okereke is a Sister with the Congregation Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus. As a young girl growing up in Nigeria, she saw religious Sisters working in her country and thought they were angels.  She decided that she wanted to be an angel, too. She felt called to religious life from an early age, and this call has allowed her to devote her life to Christ and to serving others around the world. Sr. Joanna explains that her Congregation is missionary, and so the Sisters can be sent anywhere in the world. She says that she was not afraid, but rather “by being a Sister, wanting to serve, you just feel comfortable going.”

Sr. Joanna is very passionate about her mission work. She tells us that she reaches out and helps people because she believes “being alive is something to praise God about.” She wants others to feel the same love she feels, because she knows that so many of the people she ministers to feel hopeless. She works to support and pray with those people.

Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus

The Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus was founded in Nigeria by an

Sr. Joanna, left, with the Handmaids of the Holy Child of Jesus.

The Handmaids of the Holy Child of Jesus at prayer.

Irish Sister of Charity, Mother Mary Charles Magdalen Walker. Eventually, young girls from the area began to follow her. After 8 years, in 1931, Mother Mary Charles decided to establish an official congregation to carry on her work after she was no longer there. The Congregation focuses on children and women. They believe that educating women is extremely important so that they may be independent and free from past restrictions. Their apostolate has grown over the years, including education, medicine, pastoral ministry, social work, and missionary services. They now staff missions in multiple countries and cities around the world, including Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon, Granada, Germany, and Rome. As Sr. Joanna states, “our missionaries continue our ministry wherever we are needed.”

Sent to do God’s Will

Sr. Joanna, left, with another member of her community.

Sr. Joanna, left, with another member of her community.

When Sr. Joanna was first sent to the United States by her Congregation, she was told that she would be working with an African American community and teaching religious education. She accepted the position of Director of the Kumba Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. There she was in charge of various activities, such as after-school programs, CCD classes, working with the elderly, and bringing Communion to the home-bound. This Center allowed Sr. Joanna to reach out to the community and support them. She explains that they would have Mass together, and then they would all gather and talk. This gave Sr. Joanna the opportunity to see the needs of the community and then minister to them. It also gave her a foundation to begin her mission work here in the United States.

“I, too, am a Missionary.”

Being sent from Nigeria to do mission here in the United States, Sr. Joanna is a different

Sr. Joanna participating in a USCMA event.

Sr. Joanna participating in a USCMA event.

kind of missioner. She tells us that in 2010 she was a presenter at the Mission Congress and her topic was “I, too, am a missionary.” Through her story, we can reflect on how mission is not simply people from the United States going to serve the rest of the world, but it is rather any person, from anywhere in the world, going to serve the people of God. There are people all over the world that need help, even here in the US. Sr. Joanna ministers to people that are “looking for support, looking for food, looking for God.”

Today, Sr. Joanna works at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers. She works with people from all backgrounds who are migrants and workers. Sr. Joanna tells us a story about a time not long ago when her group went out to minister to a group of carnival workers in Maryland. She explains that many of them are Catholic, but they do not have an opportunity to go to Church while they are traveling, so Sr. Joanna’s group “brings Christ to them.”

Continuing the Mission

Sr. Joanna, left, in front of mural.

Sr. Joanna, left, in front of mural.

Sr. Joanna believes that mission is extremely important. She discusses how people are always impressed with missionaries, telling us, “The truth is, missionaries in the world are very important, and people admire it.” As she looks forward, Sr. Joanna simply wants mission to continue to grow, with the help of people who are committed and able to go out to people and bring them Christ.

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The Joy of 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 Sr. Fidelis Marie, OSB and Sr. Madeleine Miller, OSB, Missionary Benedictine Sisters. You have the opportunity to meet the Missionary Benedictine Sisters at their exhibit table at Mission Congress 2015, October 1-4, 2015 in Houston, TX. See http://www.mbsmissionaries.org/ for more information.

Two Different Paths, One Vocation

OSB 1

Sr. Fidelis Marie, OSB, right, with another sister in Germany

Sr. Madeleine Miller, OSB and Sr. Fidelis Marie, OSB are both preparing to make their final profession of vows with the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in October 2015. Different journeys have led them to their decision to enter a missionary religious community. They have both recently returned from three months of exposure to the reality of mission that is an integral part of their community life as Missionary Benedictine Sisters with their community; Sr. Madeleine returned from three months in Brazil and Sr. Fidelis Marie returned from Germany.

Sr. Madeleine became a Catholic in college. While studying abroad, she was introduced to the Taize community in France where she experienced a spiritual awakening that touched her deeply. A silent retreat in Taize led her to a spiritual awakening as she became aware of deeply spiritual desires. She felt welcome among this community, attracted by their monastic life, the beauty found in their simplicity, their dedication to service, as well as their ecumenical and international representation. Her spiritual journey became clearer as she pursued graduate studies. With the help of a spiritual director she was able to discern her vocation. She experienced monastic life with a community of sisters, but was drawn to the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in 2008 because of their missionary commitment.

Sr. Fidelis Marie found that she was attracted to the whole lifestyle that the Missionary Benedictines pursued. Both Sr. Madeleine and Sr. Fidelis Marie emphasize that there were aspects of the Missionary Benedictines that were unique to this community and which drew them in: a community with an international witness, a blending of monasticism and mission, a charism to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know Christ, and an emphasis on joy and authenticity. The age and ethnic diversity particularly were attractive for Sr. Fidelis Marie.

Missionary Benedictine Sisters

Sr Madeleine Miller OSB

Sr Madeleine Miller, OSB, left, with a sister in Brazil.

Rooted in the Benedictine Spirituality, the Congregation of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters was founded in 1885 especially in view of mission. As a monastic community, they follow Christ and serve wherever the Church is in need, at home or abroad. They strive to bring Christ to places where He is not yet known or where He is insufficiently known. Their lifestyle consists of living and working together in community, under a rule and a superior. The Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist form the core of their common prayer life. They wear the monastic habit as a sign of their commitment to Christ, His Church, and their Congregation. Taking monastic vows of Obedience, Stability, and Conversion of Life, they bind themselves to Christ as well as to one another in the community.

Mission Experiences

Sr. Fidelis Marie recently returned from a three-month experience in Dresden, Germany where she was exposed to a different mission reality. Observing how one of the sisters who worked with Caritas received refugees, she learned from them as she listened to their stories of why they were fleeing – refugees from Kosovo, Syria, and Lebanon – gave her a new perspective on the unity of Christians that shines through in spite of the denominational differences. She also was able to hear of the same sister’s work in the parish, helping to form lay catechists in an area in which only 4% of the population is Christian. The closeness of the community and the example of the sisters educating and teaching the faith impressed upon her the need to continue to minister to these parts of the world.

Sr. Madeleine served at a kindergarten in a slum in Brazil. One day a girl came to her classroom and simply stood and cried with no explanation. After several failed attempts to understand why she was crying, they realized that she was hungry. They served her a meal, which she sat and ate as if she had not had a meal in months. After a few more months at the school, being provided with proper meals and playing with the other children, the child grew and showed astonishing progress. Sr. Madeleine was touched by seeing this transformation, impressed by the impact that education can have in the lives of these children. “It is something that you cannot take away from them,” once they have been given an education, she says.

If We Aren’t There, Who Is?

Both sisters are deeply committed to mission which they say is still relevant to our world.

Sr. Fidelis Marie, second from left, with sisters in Germany.

Sr. Fidelis Marie, second from left, with sisters in Germany.

“The values of our society are still in conflict with the values of the Gospel,” says Sr. Madeleine. Furthermore, she says, “If we aren’t there, who is? Whose voices will children hear, if they do not hear the voice of missionaries telling them that God loves them?”

Sr. Fidelis Marie adds, “God calls everyone to be a missionary. If you are in love with the Lord, you can’t help but be a missionary.” Pope Francis has emphasized the call of every baptized person to “missionary discipleship,” she says, but it will look different depending on one’s particular vocation. “Mission can be a married woman teaching her children. Mission is a nun who never leaves the convent but prays for souls.” Each one has a responsibility to discover how he or she is particularly called to be missionary disciples.

Joy of Religious Life 

Sr. Madeleine Miller, OSB, with a student in Brazil.

Sr. Madeleine Miller, OSB, with a student in Brazil.

In a culture that tends to avoid long-term commitments, the sisters’ joyful anticipation of their final profession of vows stands out. Rather than seeing their vows of obedience, stability and continual conversion as negative prohibitions, they emphasize that these vows are joyful expressions of freedom. Commitment to these vows, Sr. Fidelis Marie says, “gives you the freedom to give yourself completely.” Neither sister seems to see anything remarkable in this decision. Sr. Madeleine states that this is simply the natural “next step.” “No one expects to get married after a first date. It is a process, and discerning religious life is also a process.”

Do they know what comes next? “That is one of the joys of religious life,” Sr. Madeleine says, laughing.

Going forward, the sisters emphasize that they must be flexible, to discern with their community, and then to be open to where they are sent. They are inspired by the examples of their elder sisters, whose lives are a testament to what God can do when one is faithful and willing to be an instrument for his will.

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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Staff Picks: Favorite Mission Books

We were inspired by World Book Day to think about some of the books that had an impact on us. We thought of books that were related to mission and missiology — directly or indirectly. What books would you add? Here are our Staff Picks:

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Sister Churches: American Congregations and Their Partners Abroad by Janel Kragt Bakker

Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission Today by Stephan B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder

Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe

Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It by Robert Lupton

The Tradition of Catholic Prayer ed. by Christian Raab

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Prayer by Joyce Rupp

The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery

Raising Gentle Men: Lives at the Orphanage Edge by Jay Sullivan

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux

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