The future of mission: One degree of separation among varied missionaries.

Both within Maryknoll and “in the field” I often hear the question about what is the future of mission. This question sometimes comes up in response to the aging of our Maryknoll fathers and brothers and fewer numbers of new vocations and the phenomenon of people more interested in twinning, immersion and short term mission opportunities.   Since the mission belongs to God, I guess it would be presumptuous of us to definitively answer that question.  However, I think God gives us some glimpses.  I like the image of mission being a treasure hunt, an adventure to discover where God’s love is breaking in and then seize upon the opportunity it presents to join in the mission.

Last week at our Regional Mission House in San Lorenzo, I think we had a glimpse into what mission looks like today and a pointer to where it may be going.   We gathered for one of our periodic mission presentations.   There was nothing unusual about that.   However, what fascinated me was our beginning round of introductions and how interconnected we all were in this treasure hunt of mission.  Let me share some of the people who were there and how they were connected.

We began with our speaker, Mario who was born in the mountains of Honduras and at age 18 left the tiny farming village for the big city of San Pedro Sulo.    There he encountered Fr. Tom Goekler, a Maryknoll priest who was working with gangs and at-risk youth.  He offered Mario shelter at the program and over the years Mario became more and more involved.  After the program moved to Guatemala City and Fr. Tom died of a heart attack, Mario and two other companions literally took over the program, Caminando Por La Paz, with some assistance from the Maryknoll Affiliates both in Guatemala and Houston.

Mario’s talk was initiated by Megan.  She is a social worker who went on an immersion trip to Central America and visited Mario’s project and eventually fell in love with him.  Mario and Megan will be married in January in his village in Honduras and afterwards she will join him at the project.  Back in the Bay Area, Megan also participated in a JustFaith program where she got to know more about Maryknoll in general and about the activities at the Regional Mission House, where she participated in the Mission Education Training Program and a retreat.

Next there was Carolyn who was the JustFaith facilitator at the parish where Megan participated in the program.  Carolyn came to know about Maryknoll from a JustFaith workshop that I was invited to give about mission.   The invitation to speak there came from another Meg, who is the diocesan coordinator for JustFaith. Meg is a major collaborator with our mission education efforts and has provided countless opportunities for us to give mission talks and presentations.  She came with Carolyn to Mario’s presentation.

Kris is our primary mission promoter in the Bay Area and works closely with Meg in reaching out to not only JustFaith graduates, but teachers and catechists.  Last year Kris worked with Meg and the diocese to offer an immersion trip to Guatemala.   Two of the participants on that trip were also present, Tiffany and Danielle, who are catechists in a local parish   During their trip last summer they visited Mario and the project.   They came to the talk with their brother Gabriel, who like them is also a  young Filipino.  

Sitting next to Tiffiany, Danielle and Gabriel was David.  David grew up in the Bay Area and is married to Mitzu.  She is from the Philippines.   David and Mitzu are Maryknoll Affiliates in the East Bay but also are  missionaries who spend a considerable amount of time in the Philippines doing mission work through an organization they founded.  They hope to eventually move there full time to do ministry.

Next to David was Gustavo and Vicky, a couple from Colombia who are also Maryknoll Affiliates.   Gustavo just began working full time with Maryknoll as a mission promoter focusing and coordinating our efforts to the hispanic community.  Gustavo and Vicky brought with them, Gustavo’s sister, Maria Lucia, who is a Franciscan sister.   Sr. Maria Lucia was sent by her community on mission to work with the people of Central America.   There she worked in some of the same neighborhoods in Honduras and Guatemala as Mario and also knew and worked with the Maryknoll fathers, brothers and sisters there.

Finally next to Maria Lucia was Kathy Bond.   Like Maria Lucia, Kathy is a woman who dedicated her entire life to mission, but not as a nun.  She is a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, who along with her husband Flavio, who is from Brazil, minister in Sao Paulo, Brazil.   Several years back, Kathy and Flavio were assigned to recruiting and promotion work, lived in the Bay Area and worked closely with me.

In looking around the room and the various connections between everyone, I was struck by the realization that this was indeed mission today, in all its various forms and expressions:  ordained, religious and lay; men and women; young and old;  from different races and cultures; each with different life experiences.   What was common among all is a strong sense that they were missionaries; everyone was involved and committed to mission at some level.  What united them on this particular night, the common thread that  ran through it all was, Maryknoll.

For me this gave me not only a profound sense of what Maryknoll has done to promote and support mission, but a glimpse into the future of mission that Maryknoll will hopefully continue to nurture.