21st October 2007
Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnois,
Homily for Mission Sunday 11:30 Mass, St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford
Sunday 21 October 2007
Today we are celebrating “Mission Sunday” just after the Church in Ireland has received the joyful news that Archbishop Seán Brady is to be created a Cardinal on the 24th of November next. Irish missionaries all over the world will be elated to learn of this, many of them knowing of the Cardinal-elect’s personal interest in their work, and all knowing that in his new position in various Congregations at the heart of the Church they will have an advocate and friend.
Archbishop Brady’s election as Cardinal comes at a time when the Church worldwide can be reminded of the important role played by the Irish Church in missionary work.
When Pope Pius X11 made an appeal to the bishops of the world in 1957 for a renewed effort to strengthen the faith in countries where it was still new he would have been aware that Ireland was a contender for ‘World Cup’ status as a small nation bringing the Good News of Jesus all over the world. In addition to the Missionary Congregations founded elsewhere which were flourishing here we had a number of home grown ones for male and female members which were rapidly growing in strength. Irish born Founders of some of these had anticipated the Holy Father’s letter in identifying African countries, newly independent or on their way to independence, as places in need of the Christian faith and open to its message.
The letter written by the Pope, known as Fidei Donum, Latin for ‘the gift of faith’, is being remembered this year, fifty years later. One small paragraph in the letter made it especially important because it broke new ground. The Pope issued an appeal to bishops to release priests of their own dioceses to work on the missions where need the need for more priests was great. He said: “another form of assistance, which is more burdensome, has been taken up by some bishops who have permitted this or that priest to go and spend some time working for the bishops in Africa”. That gentle invitation brought a worldwide response. It was to help the Church by creating a new awareness of the importance of a missionary outlook in all the members of the Church, the laity as well as the ordained.
The idea was not really new to the Church in Ireland. Irish diocesan priests had made a great contribution to the work of the Columban Fathers and St Patrick’s Missionary Society, both of which grew from the Irish diocesan priesthood. To this day in the many countries where Irish born missionaries are found you will hear talk of priests who worked there or are now working there as ‘volunteers’. These are priests who have been allowed to work for a period of time away from their dioceses at home. Back in Ireland a lot of former volunteers are working in parishes throughout the country. They have been enriched by the experience of working in Third World countries and in turn have enriched in many ways the dioceses from which they went and the parishes to which they returned. In particular they have made us aware that we must not forget the wider vision of the Church and the responsibility we all have for the sharing God’s love with the world.
When Pope Pius X11 wrote his letter fifty years ago, he spoke of three ways in which we can be part of the missionary work of the Church. “From the beginning the Church has been compelled to spread the Word of God every where…and has never ceased to ask for a threefold assistance from her children: namely prayers, material aid and, in some cases, the gift of themselves”. In the front line of missionary involvement there are over two thousand Irish personnel spread over Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America. These are the ones who have given the “gift of themselves”.
On Mission Sunday every year the Church puts before the rest of us the fact that, in a real sense, they are doing work for which we too have a responsibility. This year the words Reflecting God’s love sum up what missionaries of all kinds do, ourselves included. It is the love of God in our own hearts that makes all of us true missionaries. We give that practical expression when we pray for missionaries and support what they do to reflect God’s love to the ends of the earth.
Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois and Chairman of the Bishops’ Commission for Missions.
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