The Missionary as bridge builder

One of the privileges any Diocesan Pontifical Mission director receives comes in the form of letters from missionaries either from our diocese or from other dioceses throughout the world who write to the office about their ministries, their hopes and challenges, and most especially about the people they serve.

Each week we receive dozens of letters from missionaries who are well-known to us, such as Bishop Chris Cardone, O.P. (Solomon Islands), Brother Alex Walsh, M.M. (Bolivia), Sister Mary James Cline, R.G.S. (Ethiopia), Sister Barbara Ozelski, R.S.M. (Panama), Msgr. John Cervini and Sister Babs Barry, C.S.J. (Dominican Republic), Father Bob Coogan (Mexico), Father Bill LaRousse, M.M. (Philippines), Fathers Alan Doyle, M.M. and Gene Murray, M.M. (Taiwan), Sister Joyce Ann Edelmann, S.M.M. (Papua New Guinea), Sister Patricia Crane, C.S.C. (Peru), Sister Jean Bellini, S.S.J. (Guatemala), Father Daniel McNamara, S.J. (Philippines), and many more. We also become acquainted with new missionaries, younger missionaries from new missionary institutes serving the Church in places such as Central and Southeast Asia, East, Southern and West Africa, as well as in Central and South America and throughout the Caribbean.

If I were to sum up the role of these missionaries, I would say that their ministry, their whole life is spent being a bridge builder.

A bridge brings together two parcels of land often separated by water, a deep ravine or some other major obstacle. Before the bridge is constructed, those on either side can only look to those on the other side, but they often cannot really know them, nor are they aware of their language, customs, aspirations, needs, joy and sorrows. It takes sacrifice and ingenuity to build a bridge so people can cross over to the other side, greet others, share with them, learn from them, appreciate and encourage them.

Missionaries spend their lives as bridge builders. These mentioned above who all come from Long Island and share with us roots in this diocese, inspired in a special way by God’s love, follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, disciples, and in hundreds of years of other missionaries building bridges between diverse cultures, nations, and religious backgrounds in order to preach the Good News of Christ’s Kingdom “to the ends of the earth!”

Two great Apostles offer inspiration to missionaries as bridge-builders, St. Paul and St. Matthew. Both had a noted past that erected a barrier to God’s grace (Paul persecuted the Church while Matthew was a tax collector, one shunned and hated by society). Each was able to become a bridge between people, introducing — as Matthew did — his fellow tax collectors and other sinners to Christ; or as Paul did, opening the message of Christ ad gentes, to the nations and peoples beyond Judaism. Paul and Matthew have taught missionaries how to use their pasts not as something that weighs them down but as a way of opening them to others, giving them a means of speaking about how Christ has touched each of their lives and through this experience of faith coming to know “Jesus as Lord,” so that as Pope Pius XI wrote when he established World Mission Sunday in 1926, they “foster understanding of the greatness of the missionary task, encourage zeal among (diocesan) clergy and the people, and offer an opportunity to make the Society for the Propagation of the Faith ever more widely known and encourage offerings for the missions.”

I am always amazed as I move around the diocese preaching in various parishes about the missions when I meet people who ask about a priest, sister or brother from Long Island who they knew or know serving in the missions. Many have been generous benefactors of these missionaries; others speak glowingly of the example they have left in the minds and souls of those here who knew them, and in this too they are bridge builders.

As we approach our annual celebration of World Mission Sunday (October 2) we honor all our missionaries past and present from Rockville Centre who inspire us with their selfless lives, and who remind us that in a world where so much divides us, they continue to overcome barriers and more importantly build ever newer and stronger bridges so all can come to know the love of Christ they bring to those they serve.

As October is dedicated to the rosary, I would like to recall that in 1951, the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, at that time national director for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, inaugurated a World Mission Rosary, where each decade was made of beads of a different color (green for the forests of Africa; blue for the ocean surrounding Oceania; white symbolizing Europe and the Holy Father, shepherd of the Church; red recalling the many martyrs who served the Church in the Americas; and yellow representing the dawn of the East for Asia). Join with us in praying for the missions each day during this month dedicated to the Rosary and to the Missions.  To obtain a World Mission Rosary, call our office (516-678-5800 ext. 519 or e-mail BPistani@drvc.org), noting an offering for the children’s rosary is $5 and $10 for adults.