Last year, more than 37,000 people were welcomed into the Catholic Church in the United States at Easter Vigil Masses. This year, that joyous moment was postponed due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19. That fact gave way to reflection for me, as I thought back on that personal experience in my life 21 years ago, and about all it meant and continues to mean for me.
“And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!’” (Romans 10:15).
Missionaries from around the world have many stories to tell – joyful events, as well as sad, even fearful times. Here’s a story from my missionary service that happened one Holy Thursday that reminds us of the power of words – and the Word.
"So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Love is a global phenomenon, and Valentine's Day is celebrated in fascinating and different ways around the world, even in mission countries.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Africa was one of the most memorable holidays that I had experienced there. It was the day I met "my valentine," or at least that was the name that I gave to her. Early in the morning on Valentine’s Day, I drove with a few Sisters into the city of Nairobi, Kenya, which was about 45 minutes from the Ongata Rongai slum area where I was staying. Our mission that day was to purchase roses to hand out to the local women.
I met her while accompanying a religious Sister to a Communion call at the home of one family in a village outside the city of Arusha in Tanzania. As we were all about to pray before Communion, the little girl in that family asked the Sister if she could hold the missionary’s hand. Placing her cold little hand in my hot sweaty one (with temperatures so high, one should naturally have hot hands), I could feel her squeeze my hand during the Our Father, causing me to open one eye to take a peek at her precious little face, leaving me with a feeling that I was looking at a living angel.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.... If you are not familiar with this quote, it is from a letter that was written by The New York Sun back in 1897 in response to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who was questioning if there really is a Santa Claus. Many children throughout the world believe in Santa Claus, identifying him as St. Nicholas. Being a kind and generous man, St. Nicholas would give gifts to the poor, leaving them in stockings hung by the fireplace! Today, there are many children in our world who don’t receive material gifts at Christmas. These children would tell you that they receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of “life.” To wake up and live another day, even with their sufferings, is considered to be a gift, a blessing. And they would add that the missionaries there with them are blessings as well.
Greetings at the end of this "extraordinary" month for mission! Pope Francis had declared October 2019 to be an Extraordinary Missionary Month, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud. The theme for this month: “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.” In light of that, I felt that this would be an appropriate time to share with you the story of a dear friend of mine whom I feel is an “extraordinary” missionary priest, Father Thomas Kevin Kraft, OP. Here is the story of how, through the grace of God, we met, and how our lives would someday intertwine in the African missions.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me... We all know how the song goes, and every time I hear it I think of a holy woman I have been blessed to meet. Her name is “Grace,” and she is from the Ongata Rongai slum, which is located in Kibera in the southwest of Nairobi in Kenya.
Without a doubt, summer is the most anticipated season of the year. And whether or not it’s your favorite ~ one Gallup poll puts summer in third place as a favorite season for Americans, behind spring and fall ~ there are endless things that we love about it. Longer days, swimming at pools, going to the beach feeling sand in between your toes, barbecues, catching lightning bugs at night time, plus campfires and endless smores. Many families here in the United States take vacations during the summer months. It’s a time to reconnect with each other, a time to relax and enjoy, breaking the monotonous routine of our daily lives. Many of us like to play games.
Summer is in full swing in the eastern part of Pennsylvania. The sweltering heat from the sun is radiating down onto the concrete causing illusions of wavering images as it reflects off the street. I recently noticed, as I was leaving my parish's rectory, that this heat was causing the energy and excitement that filled the children who were participating in Vacation Bible School to decrease. With their outdoor activities being limited due to the muggy conditions, the children were being sent indoors to continue their activities in an air conditioned gym. While observing the children out on the school playground in the summer heat, getting tired and looking for someplace cooler or a drink of water, my mind flashed back to a time when I was in Nigeria and was given the opportunity to participate in a Vacation Bible School session. This session was being held in a village, located in Igbo land, in the southern part of Nigeria.
Here in the Northeast, there are birds chirping, scents of flowers blooming, trees budding, the dominating earthy fragrance after a rain shower, the wonderful evocative odor of newly mown grass. Full of freshness, these fragrances bring me back to a mission journey I took thousands of miles away, deep in the bush in the country of Uganda in Africa. A country full of green tropical jungles, with the beauty of Lake Victoria, source of the Nile River, Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Equator, and yes, gorillas. However, the one place that I hold close to my heart is Namagongo, the most spiritual sacred place in all of Uganda. This is the land where the Ugandan Martyrs were burned alive for their love of Christ.