The Haiti Bug

Julie-450 x 450.jpg

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.


Julie-450 x 450.jpg

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

MGC-kid-small.jpg

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.

mgc-hugging.jpg

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.

MGC Headshot.jpg

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 https://www.gofundme.com/church-of-tamara 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)

Missionaries for Life (7.3.18).jpg

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)

Mission Communion.jpg

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

Fr. McGraw_edit.jpg

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

Fr. McGraw_edit.jpg

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.