My thirteen years of service as a priest in the Vatican, both in the Pontifical Council for the Laity, as well as in the Vatican Museums, have provided me with a unique window into the missionary life of the Catholic Church. For 8 years I sat in on some of the “ad limina” visits to Rome of groups of Catholic bishops from around the world as they made their way to the different Vatican Offices. It was there that I learned first-hand of the incredible growth and vitality of the Church in such places as Oceania and Asia.
For example, the bishops of Oceania —far from expressing laments about decreasing Mass attendance— shared with us news about the incredible growth of their local churches, and how their biggest challenge was to provide adequate personnel to keep up with all those who want to be baptized and catechized.
The four marks of the Church are: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, and these will serve to guide the discussions of the Diocesan Synod 2023. In 1925, in order to bring attention to the Catholic and Apostolic dimension of the Church, Pope Pius XI organized a Vatican Exposition, which displayed the cultural, artistic, and spiritual traditions of all peoples of the world. Many of the artifacts on display were gifts that were given to missionaries to take back to Rome to be gifted to the Holy Father. The great success of the Vatican Expo, which displayed more than 100,000 objects and works of art to more than a million visitors, convinced the Pontiff to transform the temporary event into a permanent exhibition. Thus, the Missionary Ethnological Museum was born and now finds its current home within the Vatican Museums under the new name: The Anima Mundi Museum, and it is a truly “Catholic” and “Apostolic” collection.
In 1926, the same Pope Pius XI instituted “Mission Sunday” and began a universal collection for missionaries in October of 1927. Mission Sunday continues today and is celebrated in all the local Churches as the feast of catholicity and universal solidarity and helps remind Christians around the world that we all have a part to play in the mission of evangelization. How do I “go out to all the world” to proclaim the good news of Jesus and his redemptive love? Do I need to travel to distant lands?
The answer may be closer than we think. St. Therese of Lisieux died at the age of twenty-five, after nine years enclosed in a Carmelite convent. It was there that she discovered her place in the Church: to be like a heart that pumped blood to all its members. In 1927, Pope Pius XI decided to proclaim her Patroness of the worldwide Missions, alongside Saint Francis Xavier, a tireless Jesuit missionary in India and Japan.
Why? Because what makes a missionary are not the legs but the heart!
~ Reflection by Rev Kevin Lixey, LC