One of the great privileges in the Mission Office of the Diocese of La Crosse is sharing joy, both giving and receiving it in abundance. When we are able to distribute funds to missionaries, we sometimes receive back pictures making God’s work visible. We see celebratory gatherings and projects advancing. In so many of these photos there are smiling people. Our contact with donors is no less joyful. When God inspires each of us to sacrifice and follow through with a gift, He rewards us with similar smiles of gratitude and accomplishment in spreading the Good News. Joy grows as it is shared.
The Missionary Mandate (Mt 28:19-20) has always motivated the Catholic Church to send and support her missionary priests, religious and laity in every generation from the Apostles to today. The Church’s obedience given to Christ, her founder and head, will also continue in each generation looking forward to His second coming. There is always a need to evangelize, re-evangelize and keep going. That is our great joy and reminder as we celebrate World Mission Sunday, Oct. 22-23, 2022.
“You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8) is the theme for 2022. By giving us this reminder, our Holy Father, Pope Francis seeks to strengthen the participation of every Christian in fulfilling our baptismal promises. Conformed to Christ, our lives make visible the presence and love of the Savior. By being happily faithful, we evangelize. But it is important to remember that the joy we share is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not limited by our emotions but empowered by our freedom in God.
Blessed Pauline Jaricot (1799-1862), beatified May 22, 2022, took on a great burden of helping the missions through prayer and collections. She heard the cry of missionaries evangelizing in the young United States of America and in China. After bringing the issue to her bishop, she rose to the challenge by forming circles of 10 people. Each member embraced daily prayers and a sacrifice, the equivalent of one penny each week, given to support the missions.
Today, 200 years later, her efforts are celebrated and continued through the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, one of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which looks to her as a foundress, model of faith and, soon we pray, a heavenly advocate. She had a further effect in her homeland. Following the French Revolution, during a period of strong national anti-Christian and anti-Church feeling, her evangelization had the effect of giving purpose and strength to Catholic individuals and communities in Lyon and beyond. Being raised above the dark sentiments around them, their service to the missions caused their love of God and neighbor to blossom.
Through the legacy of Father Joe Walijewski and his mission as it continues in the hands of others in Peru, we can see the same thing happening more intimately in the Diocese of La Crosse. Daily holy hours at Casa Hogar raise to God prayers and petitions sent from inside and outside our diocese. For many years, and in increasing ways more recently, Casa Hogar has offered assistance to other local orphanages with Mass, catechesis, sacramental preparation and some shared food and supplies. This last year, some of the girls at a neighboring orphanage, Caritas Felices, were supported by family and formed to be welcomed into the Church through the sacraments of initiation. Celebrating the work and ministry inspired by Father Joe also grew this year to include a Polish Dinner in the Wausau area.
The joy shared in faith reaches even further out into other societies and relationships. Each summer, the Mission Coop Program invites representatives from missionary territories around the world to visit our parishes and solicit support. One by one, they connect with us. Many of the priests who make these appeals are already serving in our parishes and are given a chance to speak about their home dioceses or religious orders and the work they do among their people. Even as they ask our support, we are the beneficiaries of their stories and insights into the universality of the Catholic Church. Through them, we come to know their families, their struggles and their joys.
In Ukraine, much innocent blood has been shed during the multiple-years war with Russia and the full invasion of 2022. But from the debris of great tragedy, God inspires greater good. Chalice of Mercy is a mission and ministry founded and organized from within our diocese by Valentyna Pavsyukova. The work of her mission in Ukraine is a shining light in the darkness of war, especially now in service to the soldiers and military hospitals on the front lines. In the past, she has helped many atheist physicians come to understand the dignity of human life and stop performing abortions. Now she is helping soldiers trust in God and heal from the trauma of physical, emotional and spiritual injury.
“You shall be my witnesses” …even to the ends of the earth. Every member of the Diocese of La Crosse who has participated in missionary activities, collections and prayer over the years, including 2022, has shared in this witness. As Pope Francis stated this year in his message for World Mission Sunday, you are by virtue of your baptism, “prophets, witnesses, missionaries of the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth!” May God bring to completion the good He has begun in you.
By Father Woodrow Pace, Director of the Office for Missions
Published in the Sept./Oct. 2022 issue of Catholic Life Magazine