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 "...it 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.