In his message for World Mission Sunday this year, Pope Francis speaks of the celebration as one of “grace and joy,” “a privileged moment” for the faithful to engage in prayer and acts of solidarity. “All the Lord’s disciples are called to nurture the joy of evangelization,” he writes; all invited “to immerse yourself in the joy of the Gospel and nurture a love that can light up your vocation and your mission.”
Two parish priests in the Missions — one in Mongolia, one in the Central African Republic — share the joy of the Gospel each day with those in most need, a vocation and mission shared by all baptized Catholics. Here are their thoughts as World Mission Sunday is upon us.
“Jesus said to St. Peter, ‘Upon this rock, I will build my Church.’ And I’m thinking that is also addressed to me when I came to Mongolia.” — Bishop Wenceslao (Wens) Padilla, Mongolia
Just over 20 years ago, then Father Padilla, a missionary priest from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (known in the United States as Missionhurst), and now the first Bishop of Mongolia, arrived in Mongolia with two fellow priests. After decades of struggling in a Communist-ruled country, with no religious freedom, the people of this country now had the opportunity to hear once again the Good News of Jesus Christ, as missionaries were invited to return.
Bishop Padilla recalls finding a country struggling with issues such as alcoholism and domestic abuse, with minimal government social services, and with extreme poverty. He found a people searching “for God and for holiness,” he says.
Local catechists were formed in the faith, and now they assist Bishop Wens in sharing the Good News of the Gospel, helping the Mongolian people connect with the Catholic faith in a way that is relevant and meaningful to their own culture.
Bishop Wens was literally starting from zero — no Catholics in Mongolia when he and his fellow missionaries arrived. The first baptisms, as a group, took place after three years of their presence. In that group of 13 was Bishop Wens’s secretary.
“But before that, there was a family, a Christian family from the United States, who adopted a Mongolian child and wanted the child to be baptized,” Bishop Wens recalls. “They named their child Cholon, which is ‘stone’ in the Mongolian language. And so I gave the name Peter to that child, our first Baptism.”
From that first group, the number of Catholics has continued to grow across Mongolia, with the total today around 850. Each Easter, on average, 20 to 50 are welcomed into the Church. Bishop Wens remains as committed today as on that first day, to reach out and offer practical and spiritual support to those in need — and to continue to build the Church here, the world’s youngest Catholic church.
“Reach out. . . . It summarizes everything that I want to do as a priest, as a bishop, and as a Christian — to reach out to others,” Bishop Wens says. “And Pope Francis is very strong on this, ‘Go out, go there and do something for the people especially the poor’. . . .Because that’s what I wanted to do, reaching out to people, to the poor.”
“Lord, You know why You brought me here, give me the means.” — Father Jean Noel Yesse
Born on Christmas Eve in 1971, Father Jean Noel Yesse, one of 10 children in his family, was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Berberati in the Central African Republic in Mission Month (October) of last year.
Assigned to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in the west, by the border with Cameroon, he took on a priority of his Bishop, Dennis Kofi Agbenyadzi, that of giving hospitality to Muslims who were fleeing violence within their country. “It caused me to reflect, ‘Yes, I have seen the affliction of my people,’” Father Jean explains.
Within six months of his ordination, this local priest found himself even further into ministry among the displaced, sent by his bishop this time into Cameroon, to manage a refugee parish for 10 days — a place seeing hundreds of new refugees arrive daily. “I felt like the prophet Jeremiah, telling God, ‘I am only a child, and I do not know what to do,’” he recalls. “I took this prayer to the Lord.”
“With the grace of God, I managed the two weeks without particular incident,” he says.
All these moments, Father Jean observes, helped him “stay connected to Christ, and to be close to people in distress.” “Christ has drawn us the way,” he says, “that of always listening to people, sharing their concern, affirming their hope in Him.
“I ask men and women of goodwill to remember the Central African Republic in prayer,” Father Jean adds. “We ourselves will always keep hope because we know that God does not give up on us.”
MONICA YEHLE is director of communications and outreach for the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, and is editor of Mission magazine.