The sense of looking forward to a happy Christmas has perhaps never felt more real than in 2020. In a year hallmarked by isolation, suffering, financial pain and dislocation, we have all had to find ways to endure what has been a year like no other. Here in Victoria, we battle against frustration as we try to understand the various steps of what is called a roadmap towards a “Covid Normal” life. The roadmap metaphor is one which gives us an anchor – a way of understanding what is required of us.
The reality is that many of us long for getting on the move and returning to normal. The celebration of our faith has changed along with everything else, but this presents opportunities for seeing new ways of moving forward.
For those of a certain age, childhood memories include the textbook used for Religious Education: My Way to God. Many people, whether or not they have a religious framework that serves as a guide for their lives, speak often of “life’s journey”. It would seem, then, that we are a people most fully alive when we have a clear sense of direction – where we have come from, and where we are going. In this context, a sense of "mission" is relevant. To be on mission is surely to have our eyes set on the future: a future enabled by decisions made in the present.
The month of October, known as Mission Month across Australia, provides for us an opportunity to consider again the many ways in which we engage with others in the spirit of mission. This year, it has become very clear that we are dependent on each other. Some of us have had the challenge of social isolation, whilst others have experienced some surprising challenges of cohabitation – both far from ideal as we thrive most when we are open to a whole range of human interactions. While many of us miss the local football club or farmer’s market – the good news is that our sense of Church is multi-dimensional: family, neighbourhood, parish, and also the global community.
World Mission Sunday (18 October) is an opportunity for us to engage with this world, feel connected to it, and contribute to its life and vitality. Indeed, earlier this year, Pope Francis said that mission is at the heart and identity of the church, and the worldwide network reflects the rich variety of the "people with a thousand faces”. These thousand faces present to us in the reality of our personal experience, our news coverage and the sharing from others who have a particular cross-cultural vocation in mission. We are reminded in the Gospel that we should pay particular attention to the faces of the poor, marginalised and downtrodden. By expressing love, especially to those in need, we become more fully human ourselves and reflect the "joy of the Gospel" which Pope Francis encourages us to do. October is a time to support the “hands-on” practice of mission in the traditional sense, when we pray for and encourage the work of countless missionaries in places far away. It is also good, in this month of October, to spend some time reflecting on one’s life – one’s own personal mission.
My own work with mission projects in Myanmar has been a great source of hope and trust in “the Church on the move”, as Pope Francis mentioned in his World Mission Sunday message this year. The opportunity to work with inspirational leaders – both Burmese and Australian – to build up educational infrastructure has given many children access to opportunities, especially those living in the remotest and poorest parts of the country. Nearby, Catholic Mission is partnering with the Church in Cambodia with the shared goal to help those whose lives have been shattered by the experience of landmines injuries. For over 20 years, Bishop Enrique “Kike” Figaredo Alvargonzalez and his team in the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang have been working to advocate for people with disability, providing support such as healthcare, food, financial assistance and education.
During his address to Directors of Catholic Mission in May this year, Pope Francis highlighted seven of the features of mission which were outlined in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. In small groups and parish online prayer groups, it would be a very worthwhile exercise to share and be challenged to consider these aspects of mission. Pope Francis names these seven:
To unpack these themes would be, indeed, to go on a missionary journey!
To learn more about World Mission Month and you can help Catholic Mission support people with disability and their families. Visit www.catholicmission.org.au/cambodia for more information.