Catholic missions. To some, especially in this part of the country, those two words may conjure up images of elegant adobe structures built a few centuries ago by European priests and friars with the aim of converting the native populations to Christianity. To others it may mean the priests, nuns or lay people who visit our parishes every year and describe the work they are doing and the hardships they face in far remote corners of the world — a prelude to asking for support of their efforts to help the less fortunate.
Yet in the eyes of the Church we are all missionaries by virtue of the promises we made at baptism. We are expected to live our lives in ways that evangelize and bring the love and words of Jesus to those we encounter.
So what is the most important character trait for someone who feels called to missionary outreach? Lincoln Nguyen, director of the Diocese of Orange Mission Office, says the necessary quality is compassion. Nguyen notes that the goal of Catholic missionary outreach is solidarity with the universal church and the love of Jesus Christ. “One must have compassion for others to truly live this.”
Nguyen witnessed the joyful nature of compassion firsthand during a pilgrimage to the Philippines. He and a group of volunteers were on their way to see the efforts of a group of nuns who had been working with local villagers for nearly 30 years. The focus of their work was to provide these people with the education and skills they needed to beat poverty.
Just before his group arrived, however, the area was struck by a catastrophic typhoon. Flooding took many lives, destroyed homes and left behind severe damage. “It’s easy to doubt and ask where God is in all of this,” Nguyen says. “That’s just human nature.” But what he found was that the villagers shared an unbroken spirit. As cleanup progressed, he says there was “not one person without a smile. People were greeting us with smiles and laughter. That’s when you learn that God is in the person right in front of you.”
According to its Mission Statement, the main work of the Mission Office is to promote awareness among all age groups and generate support for missionary churches and organizations around the world. One of the biggest programs run out of the Diocese’s Mission Office is the Missionary Cooperation Plan.
Every diocese has its own MCP, a year-round liaison operation that selects missionaries who speak to parishes about their work. This keeps the Mission Office in contact with missions worldwide and in touch with their needs and endeavors.
Nguyen says that these visits not only benefit the missions, but also the parishioners who hear the message. “Even though we don’t go to these places, we can feel a connection to them,” he says. “Some can be missionaries by going out to the missions, and some can be missionaries by giving love, prayers and contributions.”
Missionary outreach does not always require enduring the hazards and hardships in a remote corner of the world to help those in need. There are needy people on our own streets and no shortage of ways that Catholics can help alleviate their plight.
Nguyen says that from the missionary point of view, the world has no borders. A poor, less-fortunate person in India or Africa is no different than a poor, less-fortunate person on the streets of New York or Los Angeles. “Missionary outreach means living every day in our faith, serving people who are marginalized,” says Nguyen. He says we must refrain from an either/or mentality if we want to serve.
“I would like people to know that we are all missionaries,” Nguyen says. “The way we are living our faith is no different than the way the priest or nun is living it.” He also wishes that more people were aware of the Diocese Mission Office and its work. “Not a lot of people know that the Mission Office exists,” he says.
Those interested in learning more about the Mission Office’s work can visit rcbo.org/group/mission-office or call 714-282-3031.