To The Heights!

By Rev. Jason Weber

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In February I will be leading 52 young men up the highest peak in the Caribbean from Feb. 7 to Feb. 10. I am very grateful to those who have donated to this effort making it possible and making this the most exciting pastoral effort this year. My mom asked me what this program consists of, and why it is so important. These are certainly great questions because if it is ONLY a hike, well, nice, but. . .

This is much MUCH more than a hike. If we were to have this effort in the states, the youth group(s) and young men would need to contribute the cost of the trip, which I'm hoping to keep to around $120 per person- a pretty good deal for a four day trip which includes sleeping bags, transportation, park admission, and 4 days of food for 68 people (we have to use pack mules, and for every three mules a guide is required, making 15, plus the head guide): a formidable enterprise.

So, from the beginning, I made it clear that those who would like to go on the hike must participate in the formation program beginning in August. The young men would need to form teams with one or two captains directing their team. The formation program was broken up into 4 major themes of the spiritual life: The Battle, The Weapon, The Sacrifice, and Triumph, finishing with a spiritual retreat in January. Each month the teams were required to meet for two Bible studies and accomplish two missions. They went more or less as follows:

The Battle: First Bible Study- David and Goliath, (Samuel 17); Second Bible Study- The armor of Christ from Ephesians 6. The Spiritual life is a battle, we have an enemy, Satan, and we need the armaments of Christ if we shall be victorious. The missions included organizing a sporting event for children and praying with the ill and infirm in their communities. The Ill and infirm of course are our opportunity to show the love of Christ to our neighbor in a very specific way with folks who have a very specific battle (the ill and infirm can be united to Christ more closely through their sufferings than others who are not suffering, but there is a battle here and whether we choose Christ or become embittered- we share in that battle with our presence). The idea for organizing an activity for children is that these young men need to take responsibility within their communities and lead others to what is good. It is not enough to fight the battle for Christ in the confines of our own hearts. We are in this together.

The Weapon: PRAYER, and in a particular way the Rosary. We looked at Jacob's fight with the angel, and Revelation 12. These great chapters on prayer consider the seriousness of prayer and the struggle of prayer. When we consider prayer as wrestling with God and the one weapon with which we can defeat even God (he lets us win of course. . .) and then see the Rosary as a way by which we defeat the great dragon… well… this is serious and profound. I would love to have what scripture says about Jacob written on my tombstone: "for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." If only I would be found worthy! Their mission? Pray the Rosary together.

The SACRIFICE: CHRIST’S and ours. We looked at the zeal of our forefathers, the Maccabees who fought to preserve the ways of God, and Phinehas who did not tolerate the adultery of the true faith through the adultery of the body. We also meditated on the Servant Song in Isaiah 52-53 and Psalm 22 and the death of our Lord. He has offered himself in sacrifice completely and zealously, will you? It is only at this point that we made Mass mandatory (one of the missions was to come to Mass well dressed). All I can say is that there is not much of an understanding of a Sunday obligation. On a Caribbean island, a sense of obligation tends to be generally lacking. It was beautiful to hear that people ask “where did all these well-dressed young men come from?” It was then that I realized how much fruit this effort was bringing forth.

TRIUMPH: The Resurrection and Pentecost. Christ has conquered and we share that conquest when we give testimony. Last week we held a retreat given by a Franciscan novice from our town. During adoration, they each received letters from a friend or family member encouraging them to greater faithfulness. It is always very touching to see men, (and young men at that!), cry. Currently, we are in our final preparations for the hike- both physical preparations which are substantial, and spiritual. Each of the 6 teams is tasked to prepare some scripture and reflection topics during the excursion. Each team is also required to be responsible for two meals or other activities to inspire reflection on our experience on the mountain. We are already talking about the future and how these young men will be more integrated into the parish in service and prayer. The men are united and eager, not just to ascend a mountain, but to take up their roles as leaders within society. The retreat that we had last week revealed that unity and zeal. Please pray that both of these powerful qualities continue to animate our young men.

I'm still surprised at how well this effort has gone! I know that I'm not in charge, it is the Lord that gives the growth, but still, after several failed attempts at bringing the men closer to Christ, to see the zeal and growth in ways I couldn't have imagined is a great grace and consolation. Please pray for us- they are still young men- but we are learning to turn our gaze up towards the heights!

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A Day in the Life of a Missionary Priest

By Rev. Jason Weber

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The above slide show captures beautifully one of my days not too long ago. On that day, I offered two Masses in different chapels in the surrounding villages and in the evening, I joined a retreat that was being offered in Bánica for some of the young women in the parish.

There is a little story embedded in this video. After Mass in a village called Los Memisos an elderly gentleman asked me to come by and visit a woman who was in bad condition. In this area where racism against folks from Haiti is very strong, this elderly Dominican said to me that everyone is a child of God and deserves care. He told me that sometimes he brings this woman a bit of food and water which surprised me because the family she was with should have been doing that. I thought I would be going to anoint her and perhaps speak with the family a bit. When I arrived, I found this poor old woman, Lolo, huddled in the fetal position on the dirt floor in the house. I thought- what if she were my grandmother? I placed my hand on her, cried a little, and anointed her. I have met people who are dying in different levels of poverty and need, but none so neglected as this poor old woman (There is one picture of her on the dirt floor in the slide show).

When I left the house, I called Tom to ask for a mattress, and I called one of the sisters, Sr. Milka who was helping with the retreat for the girls to see if a few of the young women could come with me to bathe Lolo and sure enough two young ladies and one of the sisters came with a mattress, some clothing and sheets, and a double portion of love. In the slide show, you see two of the young women beginning to prepare the mattress and Sr. Milka tucking Lolo into bed.

We talked to the family to orient them and tell them the great importance of taking care of Lolo and bathing her daily. When I returned to the house two more times Lolo was in the bed that we had brought, and her situation was better, but we still needed to take the time to bathe her. Lolo contracted a polio like disease recently and seemed to be dying. Her family transferred her back to Haiti this past week, so the next time I'm in the area I will ask her daughter about her.

In this little episode, it was the charity of one elderly gentleman who had a heart for his neighbor that brought us into contact with Lolo and allowed us to orient the family to taking her care more seriously. It was also wonderful to have the support of Sr. Milka and two of the girls from our youth group, Yenny and Luz, who also returned to visit Lolo on another occasion. My day didn't actually finish with the sunset- I still had a talk with the girls on retreat and ate with them before saying my prayers and placing the day in God's hand and seeking to rest in the Lord.

Interview with Bishop Ernest Ngboko, CICM of the Diocese of Lisala


Earlier this year, His Excellency, Bishop Ernest Ngboko, CICM of the Diocese of Lisala was kind enough to tell us a little about himself and his diocese in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Read and enjoy!

Where are you from and how did you become a priest and then a bishop?

I am Most Reverend Bishop Ernest Ngboko, CICM, the new Bishop of the diocese of Lisala in the Northwest part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was appointed by the Holy Father Francis on February 11, 2015 and ordained Bishop on April 19, 2015 in Lisala, the seat of the diocese. It was the same day that I took possession of my new ministry. My episcopal motto is: "One heart, one soul “.

I am a member of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (known in the USA as the Missionhurst Missionaries), I worked as a missionary in Senegal (West Africa) for 16 years. I was ordained a priest in 1996, I was successively assistant and parish-priest, then Superior of the autonomous district of Senegal and Regional Coordinator of Africa. In 2011, I was elected Vicar General (number 2 in command in the Congregation taken as a whole); I was obliged to join the general team in Rome to exercise this new function. It was while exercising this ministry in Rome that I was called upon to be a bishop. 

Give a short history of the Diocese of LisalA

The diocese of Lisala was a portion of the Apostolic Vicariate of the Belgian Congo (1888); it was entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Missionhurst Missionaries) on April 3, 1919, under the name of the Apostolic Vicariate of New Antwerp. The Apostolic Vicariate of New-Antwerp took the name of Vicariate of Lisala on January 27, 1936 and erected as the Diocese of Lisala on November 10, 1959 (see Apostolic Constitution Cum parvulum of Pope St. John XXIII).

With an area of 67,674 square kilometers, the population is estimated at more or less 1,850,125 inhabitants, of which 859,347 are men and 990,778 are women. Its population consists mainly of 11 different ethnic groups (Ngombe, Budja, Ngbaka, Bangenza, Doko, Bandunga, Pakabete, Mongo Yakata, Batwa, Lokele and Babale). 

How would you describe church life in Lisala?

The diocese of Lisala has 102 priests, 191 religious men and women; more or less 880,227 Catholic Christians and more or less 12,428 catechumens and 625 catechists. As for our ministry, we are facing multidimensional problems. Our ministry places us in front of several challenges related to the life of People of God. These challenging realities made of joys and especially of sorrows, help us to take a well-planned strategic orientation focused on the human being as the expression of the heavenly kingdom. This orientation is nothing but our pastoral vision which is as follows: 

1.Care of the youth facing an uncertain future 

2.Rehabilitation of schools and construction of new schools  

3.Health facilities such as clinics, health centers equipped with basic equipment and pharmacies would reduce the infant mortality rate and extend the life expectancy of our populations (47 years).

4.Rehabilitation of churches and rectories, construction of chapels in the outstations(pastoral centers and villages) 

5.Construction of nursing school (undergraduate and graduate)

6.Care of women and young mothers 

7.Some agricultural or livestock projects would be a way to help our people to take care of themselves. 

8.Formation of catechists, the main agents of evangelization 

9.Rehabilitation of the diocesan catechetical training center

10.Ongoing formation of clergy and other lay people

11.Nursing home for elderly and disabled priests 

12.Deep evangelization 

13.Moral and civic formation of the population (people must know not only their duties, but also their rights: they are exploited); Fostering hope to people in order to avoid fatalism.

How is life different in Lisala from the life in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

In Lisala area, farming is the main activity and the main source of income for 95% of the population. This farming is above all a subsistence agriculture: farmers grow small fields just enough to satisfy their food needs. The population lives on $1 a day. Although living in an area rich in natural resources (fertile land, water, forests, favorable climate ...), people live below the poverty line. They live in misery. Agricultural activities do not allow the population to live decently, to face the various problems of life such as: schooling of children, comfortable housing, decent clothing, health care, etc. 

The restricted possibilities for education keep population out of the current evolution of the modern world.  - Transportation of crops to major centers is often difficult or impossible in some places because of the lack of means of transportation, the impracticability of roads, broken bridges, etc. Transporting the produce is done on one’s head or on one’s back. Women and children, who are traditionally responsible for transporting the produce to the market place pay a heavy price in their health. 

What are two important things that you want parishioners in the Diocese of Arlington to know about the Diocese of Lisala? 

 1.We started a construction project: we are planning to put up a Clinic and a Nursing School. Your donation will help to construct and maintain the above-mentioned clinic and nursing school. Besides, your donation will help to buy medicine and medical equipment for the clinic and the nursing school to be constructed. In the clinic as it stands now, patients sleep on bamboo beds; there is only one microscope, a couple of blood pressure kits that is shared by nurses. People die  for  lack of treatment: pregnant women die for lack of prenatal care, children die early for lack of care. 

2.We have so many orphans: parents have died either of natural causes or of the consequence of wars. The diocese feels that, by our ministry, we must care for those children, but we are very limited in our resources. Your donations will assist those kids with nutrition, with schooling, with clothes and above all with their religious education

We are very grateful to the Diocese of Arlington for granting me the opportunity to share with you our challenging mission. May God bless you! Thank you for your generosity! 

To donate to the Diocese of Lisala CLICK HERE

Crystal Bones

By Fr. Jason Weber

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One day a priest was visiting a family with 8 children and the priest asked the mother of the family, 'which of your children do you love the most?' Without missing a beat, she responded, the one who needs me most.

The above picture is the view from Miguelina's house, Monday Nov. 5 when Fr. McGraw and I picked Miguelina and her mother up in order to bring Miguelina to the sisters' house in the capital. The Sisters of Maria Formadora run a house for the poor who need serious medical treatment. Miguelina had broken her leg in June and the leg wasn't healing. She is a fifteen year old girl who has been involved with the church her entire life, and a few months ago I was brought up to her house to visit her. After a few visits and an attempt to get medical attention in San Juan, we brought her to the capital. On Thursday the sisters called me to let me know why her leg wasn't healing: she has bone cancer, or as they say here, huesos de crystal- crystal bones. Priests often deal with difficult situations and usually remain collected in order to offer words of support and prayers. This one hit me though and I did shed a few tears. Bone cancer I understand is rather painful, and this little girl will spend the rest of her life in bed because her body is not able to heal what is already injured and is susceptible to damaging her frail bones. The leg that wouldn't heal. . . the doctor said that it is broken in several parts and the rod that had been put in at the beginning is the only thing holding her leg together.

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I met with the youth group of her community, Higüerito, on Thursday and decided that I would personally go up to the capital in order to bring her back home and pray with her. The youth group committed themselves to frequent visits with prayer and scripture reading with her. Miguelina is a trooper! Despite the obvious pain, she has not complained, and despite the diagnosis, she retains her peace. I actually think that she will be a wonderful influence on everyone that will be visiting!

Which of my children do I love most? It might just be this little lamb at the moment. Let us remember also that illness and maladies exist so that the glory of God may be manifest. The glory of God is His love when we live in that love. I pray that we can assist here in this arduous journey that she may enter heaven a saint through this cross.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Weber

Jesus, the Poor, Maimed, Blind, and Lame

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The Arlington Mission Office proudly concludes our presentation of the winners of the Missionary Essay Contest with the fine, 1st Place winner by Aaron Peiffer.

Ragged, unkempt, and neglected, they appeared at the door of our mission house looking for a moment of respite, a touch of humanity, a look of compassion, a word of consolation. Many of these dear souls lived alone and it was often difficult to ascertain what paths had led them to their present conditions. As in a vast desert, tracks become quickly lost in ever shifting sands. Many came from broken families, some had additions, others were mentally handicapped, and almost all were terribly lonely and isolated. These are the forgotten ones among the poor of Villa Jardín, a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina where I was privileged to serve as a lay missionary with the ecclesial movement Heart’s Home for 14 months.

During this urban mission we had daily contact with many of the impoverished and forgotten poor of our parish and neighborhood. Frequently these dear souls came to Holy Mass and eagerly arrived on feast days at the various street shrines, or ermitas, dedicated to various saints scattered throughout our neighborhood. These dear ones revealed to me a profound mystery by their very presence: the immense love of Christ who is present to us in the very least of His brethren and continues to suffer in them, bearing their infirmities and sorrows. The more I spent time with them, the more I could truly sense that all their miseries and sufferings were but a thin veil shrouding the immense mystery of Christ’s incarnation. 

They found a special place in our hearts, and we in theirs. Soon we became aware that many of them would pass holidays and feast days alone in their small, dark houses or rooms, perhaps too ashamed or embarrassed to seek the company of others, so we invited them to our mission house on such occasions to share a meal, some fellowship, and light-hearted festivity. It only later occurred to me that our small gesture of friendship and charity was in some small measure a fulfillment of Christ’s desire to pour forth the blessings of His kingdom upon the poor and the outcast: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (Luke 14:13-14).  

What joy and fulfillment we received welcoming these dear friends into our lives and into our house. I can hardly remember enjoying a gathering of friends quite in the same manner, free from the many anxieties, expectations and self-consciousness that often accompany social gatherings. We laughed, chatted, feasted, and at times simply sat contentedly around the patio table in the flickering candle light and the cool evening breeze, sensing in some small measure a participation in the joys of heaven even now in the love of Christ. Their earthly lot was indeed a heavy burden, but I know that these simple, yet joyful moments helped them to continue their journey with renewed strength and hope. 

Today, nearly four years later, my thoughts and prayers often turn to these dear friends, although my life as a clean-cut American professional is somewhat removed from missionary life on the noisy and dirty streets of the Argentinean Villa. I ardently pray that they would ever remain close to Jesus and Mary and that I would not forget their poverty, suffering, and pain. They continue to inspire me today to look beyond myself and my own anxieties and share the love of Christ with those around me who live crippled by fear, suffering, and isolation. Although we have parted ways in this earthly journey, I greatly anticipate being reunited with my dear friends one day at the heavenly feast in the kingdom of God. Clothed by the Divine Master in splendor and light, we shall once again laugh and partake of the eternal joy that knows no end.

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Aaron J. Peiffer was born in Arlington, VA and raised in a devout evangelical Christian family. He studied architecture at the Catholic University of America, graduating in the spring of 2011. After years of prayer and searching he entered the Catholic Church on Easter of 2012 and later served for 14 months as a lay missionary with Heart’s Home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Currently he works as an architectural drafter in Fairfax, VA and is a parishioner at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax.

The Haiti Bug

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This week the Arlington Mission Office continues the parade of Missionary Essay Contest Winners with the wonderful 2nd Place winner by Julie Schoenman.

"Uh-oh," observed my roommate just two days into my first mission trip, "you have the Haiti bug!"  With several mission trips already under her belt and a full year spent teaching in Haiti, she spoke with some authority.  Fortunately, her diagnosis was spiritual, not medical, and I am happy to report that she was spot on.  The lovely people of Haiti and the natural beauty of the country touched my heart almost upon arrival and have only increased their hold on me in the years since that first trip.  

This impact was not a given.  Back then, my connection to mission work was minimal - I was just one of many parishioners from St. Thomas à Becket church in Reston who happily made an annual donation to provide tuition assistance and hot lunches to students at a small Haitian school we had begun supporting in 2010.  Then, late in 2013, our mission committee leader put out a call for people who might be interested in joining him on a first visit to the school.  I don't know why this unexpected invitation spoke to me, but within short order I had purchased my ticket and started getting all the necessary immunizations.  In deciding to go, we both took a big leap of faith, praying for a safe trip and wondering what in the world we had signed up for.

Totally naive, we had the great fortune to make this and several later trips with experienced missionaries from St. Charles Borromeo and St. Anthony of Padua parishes here in northern Virginia, both of which have a long history of supporting schools and other ventures in the same region of Haiti.  Our mission partners were generous with their insights and connections, as well as wonderful traveling companions.  If only for the pleasure of these new friendships, the trips have been well worth the effort.  But they have been so much more. 

Our trips are not what most people probably think of when they hear the term mission trip.  We don't build houses, provide medical care or teach Bible study classes.  Rather we are there to observe, ask questions and listen.  Our aims are to provide verification to our donors that their financial support is being used wisely, work through inevitable snags, and identify other needs we might be able to tackle.  Over the years, in addition to our central mission of supporting the students and teachers, our faithful donors have made it possible to add new buildings to the school property, strengthen a community gardening program, drill a new well, build latrines, encourage hygiene education, initiate a water purification program, and build and equip a new kitchen at the school.  It has been a joy and a privilege for me to be able to witness this progress firsthand during repeat visits, and I am always so deeply grateful to the sponsors who trust us to make good decisions about how their generous donations are used.  

At this point, the Haiti bug still has its hold on me.  My original mission partner and I were blessed to make our fourth trip to Haiti this past March.  For the first time, we traveled without our mentors from St. Charles Borromeo and we took one of our fellow parishioners with us.  Watching her first-time reactions to the overwhelming sites of Haiti caused me to reflect on the evolution of my own reactions.  That first trip, I struggled to take in the 360-degree barrage of heartbreaking poverty - it was everywhere I looked.  But I also appreciated the gentle murmur of townspeople gathering at the community well in the early morning, the neatly-dressed students climbing the steep hill to school, and the responsible but still playful children watering livestock in the river at day’s end.  These simple sights and sounds fill me with a quiet peace that I treasure more with each visit.  At the same time, my shock at the grinding poverty has faded.  “What is wrong with me,” I wonder, “that I no longer respond emotionally to such immense need?”  I think it is simply that I no longer see the poverty first.  As friendships have blossomed and I have witnessed the innate goodness of the Haitian people, it is the person that I now see before the circumstances.  

The Haitian priest who leads our community is fond of saying that God will reward our generosity one hundredfold.  I assure you, for me, He already has.

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Julie Schoenman is an economist who directs research to inform U.S. health care policy. Her love of new experiences, children and the French language led her to become involved in mission work in Haiti. She would like to expand on those experiences by working on health-related missions and in other francophone countries in the coming years. She has been a member of St. Thomas à Becket parish for almost 30 years.

I Discovered the Reality of Poverty

By Mary Grace Coltharp


Today the Arlington Mission Office is proud to kick off the publication of the winners of the first Missionary Essay Contest. We start off with 3rd Place winner, Mary Grace Coltharp, and her wonderful essay on "How My Mission Trip Changed Me"

When I think about the defining events in my life, one of the first to come to mind is the first mission trip I ever went on. At the time, I was excited for my first international experience and to finally be the servant of God I’d always wanted to be. When I look back at the immense impact that first mission experience had on my life and how much it changed me for the better, I laugh at the smallness of my anticipation, in comparison. Two years ago, when the group from my parish and I were in the final stages of preparing for our mission to Tamara, Honduras, I was a pretty different person than I am today. I was shy, overly-cautious, and shockingly unaware of the conditions some people in the world suffer constantly. A few short years later, I credit my mission trip to Honduras as being one of the first major steps I took toward the life I wanted and toward being the person I believe God is calling me to be.

During the shock of first arriving in Honduras and seeing the poverty, I didn’t feel like I could make much of a difference in their lives, but the friends I made proved me wrong. Whether it was one little boy promising to learn English because I’d promised to learn Spanish or a single mother of two showing her gratitude after I handed her a bag a groceries, they taught me that every little bit matters. My mission team worked to repair and renovate the historic church and town square, central to their village. We brought donated goods and bought a few families some groceries. It was simple work, but in just over a week and through plenty of disjointed Spanish I made friends, served their community, and was changed forever.


That mission was a turning point in my life because it forced me to realize that poverty wasn’t just another worldwide issue I heard and occasionally talked about. Suddenly, I was hugging the beautiful children of God that experienced the reality of poverty. Now, the people who faced these difficulties every day weren’t just nameless populations hundreds of miles away; they were children and families I called my friends. My time in Honduras changed my life because I went without any credentials or special talents, just myself and enough love, and that community was still overjoyed at our presence there and incredibly grateful for my contribution and care. Now, on a regular basis I put myself in totally new situations in which I have to do tasks I’ve had no experience with. In doing what needs to be done and figuring it out as I go, I’ve gained so much confidence.

In large part because I took the risk of joining that mission trip to Honduras, I decided that after graduating high school I would take a gap year to do volunteer work, before starting at my university this Autumn. That being one of the first major decisions I’ve had to make about my future, I seriously doubt I would’ve believed in myself enough to choose this unorthodox path had I not done that first mission experience in Honduras. This year I’ve moved to southern Texas to work at a birth center; to Belize in Central America to do missionary work; and to Queens, NY to serve at an assisted living home. Last summer, I went on another mission trip, this time to Peru, and next year when my church is going to Honduras again I have no doubt I will be on that plane. I have matured exponentially and learned just how much there is left for me to learn.

I still get nervous with new groups of people, but I get over it faster. I still take things for granted most of the time, unfortunately, but I have a much clearer understanding of how good I’ve had it. I understand poverty far better than I did before my time in Honduras, but still only as well as a middle-class American with no first-hand experience can. I still, sometimes want to see some major change for the better in the lives of the people I serve, instead of being content with the little bit of stress I relieved or smile I caused. In the end, I still have a long way to go in my journey to being a faithful follower of Christ; but, I know I have already come a long way.

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Mary Grace is a young parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Manassas. She graduated from Saint John Paul the Great in 2017 then took a gap year to do service work in the States and abroad. Now she is attending Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, exploring different fields of study. Mary Grace is grateful to her parents, Mary Beth and Gordon, who taught her compassion and have always supported her ambitions. If you would like to donate to the efforts of Sacred Heart and its sister parish in Honduras to rebuild the church's roof, go to Thank you!

Mission Office Announces Essay Contest Winners

By Roberto Bacalski, Program and Development Coordinator

LtoR: Aaron Peiffer, Julie Schoenman, and Mary Grace Coltharp

LtoR: Aaron Peiffer, Julie Schoenman, and Mary Grace Coltharp

The Arlington Mission Office is proud to present the winners of the first annual Missionary Essay Contest.

1st Place - Aaron Peiffer

2nd Place - Julie Schoenman

3rd Place - Mary Grace Coltharp

Traveling to the slums of Buenos Aires, shanty towns in Haiti, and poor communities in Honduras, these missionaries deepened their faith by responding to Christ's mandate to go out to all the nations. The theme of the essay contest, "How My Mission Trip Changed Me" was uniquely addressed by each of these authors. Each essay is a personal reflection on the profundity of doing ordinary acts with extraordinary love. The essays will be published in the Arligton Catholic Herald (print edition only) and posted to the Bánica Blog beginning October 4 with Ms. Coltharp's essay, followed by Ms. Schoenman's on October 11, and ending with Mr. Peiffer's essay on October 18 as we head into World Mission Sunday on October 22.

The winning essays were carefully chosen by a blue-ribbon team of judges consisting of Corinne Monogue, Director of the Arlington Diocese Office of Multicultural Ministries, Michelle Haworth, Executive Director of Commissioned by Christ, and Michael Mele, an experienced Mission Office volunteer and author of several mission articles published in the Arlington Catholic Herald. Each judge selected their top three choices. The winners were then culled from a consensus of the three judges' picks. Each of our winners was placed in the top three by at least two judges. Mission Office Director, the Very Rev. Patrick L. Posey gave the final approval before the winners were notified.

Bishop Burbidge will present these deserving winners with a special certificate in a private ceremony on September 28.

Bishop Emeritus Macram Gassis to speak at Christ the Redeemer

By Roberto Bacalski, Program and Development Coordinator

Bishop Macram Gassis, mccj celebrates Palm Sunday Mass in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

Bishop Macram Gassis, mccj celebrates Palm Sunday Mass in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

Most Reverend Macram Gassis, mccj Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of El Obeid in Sudan, will be speaking at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling the weekend of July 28-29 as part of Missionary Cooperative Plan Summer Mission Appeals. He graciously took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions and tell us a little something about himself.

Mission Office: Where are you from and how did you come to be a missionary for your diocese?

Bishop Gassis: I am Sudanese. I was born in the capital city of Khartoum. I belong to no tribe, and this is a blessing, since I can fit in any situation and in any place and in any diocese in Sudan. I come from an ecumenical family. I was the first and only priest from North Sudan and I am the only bishop from North Sudan. I also speak Arabic fluently because it is my mother tongue but English is my second language. I was educated by the Comboni Missionaries and I was attracted by their dedication and missionary life. I studied in England and in Italy and became a Comboni Missionary in 1964.

Mission Office: What are the most pressing needs of your diocese right now?

Bishop Gassis: The most pressing needs are: supply of food relief given the war situation in both the Nuba Mountains and the area we are serving in South Sudan and the civil strife that has caused 2,000,000 people to take refuge to neighboring countries. We need to supply clean water which is life, and at the same time we are offering education and formation to the children and youth. We combine relief with rehabilitation. Of course the pastoral aspect is very vital in such situations. In summary, the basic needs of my people to survive: food, water, medicine, and also the education of the children and youth who are the future of the church and country.

Mission Office: What is one thing parishioners in the Arlington Diocese can do right now to have an impact on your diocese?

Bishop Gassis: The parishioners of Arlington can assist in any of the above listed needs. The Catholic Church has become the referral point of the people since the authorities do not meet the needs of the people. For example if a community needs clean water they will not appeal to the government or the Liberation Movement. They will come to the Church. Likewise if they need food, they will come to the Church.

Mission Office: Tell us a story about how contributions to your diocese have made a difference in someone's life.

Bishop Gassis: With the contributions I had received it was very vital to purchase and supply mattresses for the patients at Mother Theresa Hospital. I visited the wards and was shocked to see the condition of the mattresses they were using. They were not only dirty and smelly but they were even consumed. I personally went and ordered new ones and purchased new bed sheets and blankets. Many of the patients come from remote villages without water to bathe. In the hospital they are bathed clean and have decent beds and clean covers. Similarly, the Missionaries of Charity collect vagrant kids, wash them, dress them, and offer them a basic education. They are completely renewed and eventually they join the regular primary school in the area. Without the contributions we get we would not be able to give hope to our suffering brothers and sisters who live in the war zone.

Mission Office: Are there any Americans serving as missionaries in your diocese right now? What do they do?

Bishop Gassis: I used to have Maryknollers but as time went by, the last Maryknoll priest had to leave us. Presently, besides the local church, we are assisted by personnel from Eritrea, India, Mexico, Australia, France, and Kenya. They are doing pastoral work in education and health.

Mission Office: What is the most important thing you want the parishioners of Christ the Redeemer and the Arlington Diocese to know about your mission?

Bishop Gassis: I invite my brothers and sisters to join hands with me and walk with me and pray with me asking the loving Jesus to take away from us this bitter cup. Many, many children have died and suffered because they were not loved. Besides our appeal through prayers, I appeal for caring and sharing.

Support Bishop Gassis. Donate now!

Bishop Gassis will be speaking at all weekend Masses at Christ the Redeemer Church, 46833 Harry Byrd Hwy., Sterling, VA 20164.




Missionary Essay Contest Winners Announced

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington Mission Office congratulates the winners of the Inaugural Missionary Essay Contest! Ann the winners are...

1st Place: Aaron Peiffer, Fairfax, VA

2nd Place: Julie A. Schoenman, Reston, VA

3rd Place: Mary Grace Coltharp, Manassas, VA

The winning essays will be printed in upcoming editions of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

Congratulations, Aaron, Julie, and Mary Grace, and God bless you for your selfless action on behalf of God's people around the world.

What's In a Missionary?

By Roberto Bacalski, Program and Development Coordinator

"Although the obligation of spreading the faith falls individually on every disciple of Christ, still the Lord Christ has always called from the  number of is disciples...that he might send them to preach to the nations." ~Ad Gentes, 23 (Read full document here)

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What makes a missionary? The Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, commonly known as Ad Gentes, tells us that evangelization is the duty of all the baptized but that there are some whom God calls out for a special purpose. To evangelize in an extraordinary way. We are all missionary by nature, but some are Missionary (capital M) by vocation as well. What sets these people apart?

Ad Gentes  describes some of the qualities that are not just common to those called to go out on mission, but are required. Evangelizing to the uninitiated can be difficult at best and life-threatening at worst. The Gospel message is what is ultimately important, but the messenger must have and do what it takes to ensure that the message is credibly received. One of those qualities is commitment. Section 24 of Ad Gentes tells us that the Missionary "enters upon the life and mission of him 'who emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave' (Phil. 2:7) Therefore, he must be prepared to remain faithful to his vocation for life". It is worth noting that Ad Gentes was promulgated years before the concept of short-term mission trips became fashionable, however the idea of a lifetime commitment is not altogether outdated. While many of today's missionaries think they are committing to only a week or two or service, they are demonstrating their beliefs in an indelible way. In other words, they can't "undo" their mission trip. There will always be the memory of that experience and, very likely, a public record (at the port of entry of the destination country) of their trip available for generations to view.

Before you go on your short-term mission trip, ask yourself if you are prepared to live up to the example you will set for the rest of your life.

Photo by Shana Siler

Missionary By Nature

By Roberto Bacalski, Program and Development Coordinator

"The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father." ~ Ad Gentes 2 (Read the full document here)

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Ad Gentes tells us that the Church, (i.e., us) is missionary by nature.  We can come up with a thousand reasons why mission work is necessary and justified, but the above sentence, from Ad Gentes Chapter 1, expresses very accurately why many of us are driven to do it. It's our nature.

We know that it is necessary to eat because our bodies use the nutrients from various foods to perform the basic functions of life. We know from biology why it is necessary to eat, but even we never had one day of study of biology or science of any kind, we would still eat when we are hungry simply because it is our nature. In that sense, Ad Gentes is not a restatement of Jesus' mandate to the Apostles to go out and baptize all nations, (Matt. 28:19).  It is instead, an examination of why we feel compelled to carry out His mandate. God's first missionaries were the second and third persons of the Trinity, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As we are created in God's image, we inherit the impulse to spread the love that God breathed into us and that He, by His very nature, is moved to share.

Since the expulsion from Eden and the dispersion of Babel, human beings have sought to reconnect to that perfect community we had with God and with each other in the Garden of Eden. Ad Gentes goes on to tell us that " pleased God to call men to share His life, not just singly, apart from any mutual bond, but rather to mold them into a people in which His sons, once scattered abroad might be gathered together." (Ad Gentes, 2). To help us do that he intervened in human history "sending His son, clothed in our flesh, in order that through Him He might snatch men from the power of darkness..." (Ad Gentes 3). In other words, Jesus was sent down to get the mission ball rolling! Part and parcel of all the acts of charity we are to perform, the prayers and praises we are to sing, and the holy days we are to observe is the consistent pursuit of community with each other through Christ. That is why we do mission.  

Why We Do It

By Roberto Bacalski, Program and Development Coordinator
Mission Baptism/Photo by Shana Siler

The Diocese of Arlington has been present in Bánica since 1991. If you were to ask anyone who has ever visited the Bánica Mission why they think we are there, you will probably get various answers on the same theme: "Christ told us to help the poor." "We are fulfilling Christ's missionary mandate to baptize all nations." In other words, Jesus told us to help the poor and to spread His Gospel. These two principles form the bedrock of everything we do in the missions. But there is a more specific reason why we are there at this moment in history. The bishops of the world reiterated those twin mandates of helping the poor and spreading the Gospel in a document known as Ad Gentes ('To the Nations').

Ad Gentes was the last document to be promulgated by the Second Vatican Council on December 7, 1965. It is also known by its official title, "Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity." In this document is the Church's foundational word on missionary work in the modern era. It was followed in 1975 by the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, ('On Evangelization in the Modern World'), and the 1990 Encyclical by Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, ('Mission of the Redeemer'). Starting next week we will be posting a series of reflections on this seminal series of documents delving deeper into their meaning for Bánica and the greater mission world. The full texts of the documents can be found at the links below. I hope you will join us on this spiritual journey into the roots of modern missionary activity.

Ad Gentes

Evangelii Nuntiandi

Redemptoris Missio

The first reflection will be posted on Monday, June 18 with new reflections over the following weeks. Thank you for being our Partners in Mission!

Photo by Shana Siler

Giving and Receiving in the Missions

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What are the only words we have from Jesus that are not recorded in the Gospels?  I mean words that He spoke while on earth (the Book of Revelation has plenty of words of Jesus from heaven).  "It is more blessed to give than to receive."  These words, which Saint Paul tells us the Lord Jesus said, have lately been, as it were, ringing in my ears. 

We know that our own American culture of excessive consumption and consumerism makes it hard to grasp this truth.  Yet how many of our youth and adults who go come on a mission trip are "transformed by the renewal of their minds" so as to powerfully experience the truth of just how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. 

The prevailing culture here in the Dominican Republic in its own way also makes it hard to know the truth of Christ´s words on giving and receiving and thus to be set free by that truth.  Certainly, this is due in part to a creeping consumerism that can make itself felt here even in the midst of relative poverty.  But a greater reason would seem to lie in an attitude of excessive dependancy, which the Bishop and local church here have identified as a central problem.

On the one hand, putting myself in the shoes of my neighbor, I realize that genuine neediness makes it only natural to focus on what one can receive.  It is in a certain sense easy for me to focus on giving when my own wants and needs are so well provided for.  At the same time, the real neediness is sometimes exacerbated by a tendency to be closed in on oneself and one´s needs.

As for how to shift the focus of parishioners from receiving to giving, a powerful help surely lies in enabling them to have a mission-type of experience.  I have already seen how the young people of the town of Pedro Santana love to go on mission to the poorer, outlying areas.  Certainly this is in large part due to their desire to have a fun outing, just like Americans often go on mission trips with similar motives.  But then God´s grace takes things in a different direction.  Anyhow, I hope in the near future to facilitate more mission-trip experiences.  At some point in the future, I would love to have a mission trip for Dominicans to Haiti, where I know they would be moved by the needs of their poorer brethren.  All in God´s time, but in the meantime, I ask your prayers for this special mission intention--that those in the mission here can have more and better opportunities to experience the transforming joy of mission themselves, to taste and see the blessedness of giving.

The Many Missions of Pedro Santana

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Greetings to all on a relatively quiet day here at the parish church of Saint Joseph in Pedro Santana. Some of our parishioners here in town are being shuttled to a temporary dental clinic staffed by volunteers from Wisconsin just across the border in Haiti. Another operative, this one from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, is coming down from the mountains this morning after six days providing medical care and construction or repair of aqueducts for some of our poorest communities. About to take their place is another medical and engineering operative, some forty in all, who will head to the hills midday tomorrow. Then I will be hosting a group of students from Christendom College who will spend their spring break helping build a chapel for one of our communities and laying down a playground at our school in the mountains, San José Joca, named for Saint Joseph and the River Joca that runs nearby. It is beautiful to see the spirit of charity that animates these laborers in the vineyard. I confess it is also refreshing to have some English interlocutors in my congregation if only for a few days!
Even more importantly, I want to reflect on the spiritual conditions, particularly as last month saw the beginning of my first Lent in the Bánica Mission. As Bishop José Grullon told me, here in the border region there is a continuous cycle of dying and raising up again. Much of the population is transient and especially the young people are apt to be here one day and gone the next, often seeking further studies or work in one of the big cities of Santo Domingo or Santiago, so there is a need for invincible patience in cultivating the Catholic and apostolic spirit. In January, we were blessed with the presence of two Argentine lay missionaries who started the Legion of Mary in Bánica, Sabana Cruz and Pedro Santana. Both Father Jason and myself have a good bit of personal knowledge and experience with the Legion but finding disciples of Christ who are ready to become committed lay apostles, while never easy, seems even harder here.
There is also an acute need for catechesis, most critically for the adult population, as the few catechists are mostly youth or even adolescents. Moreover, there is a widespread disuse of the Sacraments, in many cases ever since receiving Baptism as a child or infant. Certainly a great sign of hope was the pastoral visit that Bishop Grullón made last month, resulting in exactly 72 Confirmations in our parish communities, just like the 72 disciples that Jesus sent out on mission in the Gospel! The national theme for this year, With the Eucharist, Font of Communion, We Give Impulse to the Mission, gives encouragement for remedying estrangement from the Eucharist in particular. I also have some hope that advising people of their Easter duty to receive Communion will prompt a number to approach the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist in these days. Of course, in many cases an obstacle to receiving Communion is the existence of a conjugal union not blessed by the Church, but here too there is hope in the serious interest in receiving the Sacrament that has been recently shown by a half dozen couples. Besides the foregoing intentions, I ask your prayers especially for the catechumens, both youth and adults, who are preparing to receive Baptism in Eastertide. Here as elsewhere, the restored catechumenate is a sign of the times and a great, hidden source of new vigor and dynamism for the Church.