The Mission Hub

The Pontifical Mission Societies include the Society for the
Propagation of the Faith, the Missionary Childhood Association, the Society of St.Peter Apostle, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious. These Societies promote a prayerfulmissionary spirit among baptized Catholics and to gather a fund of support for the evangelizing and pastoral programs of more than 1,150 local churches of the Developing World.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Lay Missioner's Walk with Christ

This story came to us via the CNVS (Catholic Network of Volunteer Services: ). Their Executive Director, Jim Lindsay was with us a member of the U.S. delegation to the Pan-American Mission Congress in Quito, Ecuador in August 2008. We also had the priveledge of spending time with Jim at the recent U.S. Catholic Mission Association Conference in New Orleans (more on that in a later post). The CNVS has 1098 lay missioners serving internationally in 108 countries. The following story was written by one of those missoners, Carolyn Polinsky, who served in Mexico as a volunteer with the Incarnate Word Missionaries.

´´Oh, Jesus what am I doing here?´´

I ask that to Him, as Jesus is right in front of me. It is the Feast of Christ King and I am an Incarnate Word missionary in Mexico who lives in a house attached to a chapel. This morning, a group of parishioners stopped by our house and removed the statue of Jesus. Now I am part of a procession walking through the streets of Santa Fe carrying Jesus while singing, praying and chanting.

Before coming to Mexico, I wasn´t particularly active in organized religion. One of the reasons I choose to participate in a Catholic volunteer program was because I wanted to grow in faith. I ended up living in an area full of devout, active Catholics and if I were a missionary in the way the term is commonly construed-one who prostelytizes to non-believers-there wouldn´t be much to do. Instead, I see being a missionary as sharing love made possible by God and faith.

Still, it´s a bit odd that I am wandering through the streets of a Mexican slum along with people who (with Jesus on their backs) took it upon themselves to stop and direct traffic before acquiring police cars as escorts. No one else seems to find it unusual. I reminisce back to a few months ago when I spent Sundays at the movies or shopping, and Mass was something to get over with. Now, I spend complete Sundays at the parish or involved in situations like this.

I am in an introspective state as I awoke with a headache and toothache. I didn´t quite feel up to walking, but came out of curiosity and because it seemed expected. I speak little Spanish, and I am in the back of the procession as I don´t have the energy to keep up or to try and converse with anyone.

I end up chatting with Antonio who is dawdling behind. He is a fifty-five year old homeless man that Padre took in to live at the Parish. He has a low IQ. Our conversations usually consist of him repeating ¨Como estas?¨ and ¨Que bonita Caro¨ over and over. He talks and I nod without understanding what he saying. Though I sometimes get frustrated with him, I like that there is no pressure to our conversations. He is happy to be talking with someone even if he is not understood.

A big part of my life since coming here has been being part of a community that spends time or lives at the Parish. Padre surrounds himself with all types of people, including many who have difficulties finding a place in society—those with mental and developmental problems, divorced women, and young adults struggling to find a place in the world. I admire the priest for being so accepting toward others and try to follow his example, while realizing that I am blessed, as a foreigner, to be part of such a welcoming environment.

The procession goes past the home run by the Missionaries of Charity, where I spend most of my time volunteering. Women and children live there because they have no one else to take care of them and most have severe physical and developmental handicaps. At first I felt uncomfortable around the wheelchair bound women because their suffering and inability to communicate is heart-breaking. Now, I have developed a rapport with residents, and have learned to read their expressions when they want something—to be hugged, to go on a walk, to drink water, to have their hands held.

When I first began working with the women my mind raced with doubts and questions.¨How can they be allowed to suffer so much?. My being here really doesn´t make any difference. I would be doing more getting a medical degree rather than sitting here making up silly games to play with them.¨

What I have realized is that it doesn´t matter why the women are in the state they are in or if I might do more good somewhere else. Right now, they are in need of love and I have been called to love them and it is in them that I most often see Christ. I am somewhat grateful for my (small in comparison) health and communication problems because it gives me much greater empathy toward those I serve.

The walk continues past a group of men who stand on a dead-end street drinking cheap liquor. I exchange hellos with them and decline an offer to take a swig from an open container. I was introduced to them by a parish worker involved in cleaning up the streets and I make an effort to talk with them when I see them. It is the kind of situation I would have crossed the street to avoid in the United States and now I realize I shouldn´t have to hold the title of missionary in order to reach out to people whose lives have taken unfortunate turns.

Overall, the March lasts for three hours, during which time parishioners share snacks and buy water for me. We attend Mass and then proceed back to my house where someone rings the bells on the roof as Jesus is returned. Fifty people run up and down our stairs and my roommate Jessica and I prepare coffee and sweet breads for everybody.

¨What am I doing here? ¨

Following Jesus.
Amen, Carolyn. Amen.

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