In 1897, a French missionary called Fr Arvieu made first missionary contact with a group of people living deep in the interior of Cambodia. This first meeting is documented in the Annals of the APF (predecessor of our Mission Today magazine) that year, and though subject to the mindset of the day, is nevertheless heartwarming.
The village chief came out to meet our intrepid missionary and said, ‘You are welcome. Please accept some white rice and honey, and allow me to enquire whence you come, wither you are going, and what you need.’
Fr Arvieu answered, ‘Have no fear. We have not come to do you harm. We are priests of the Christian religion. We worship only one God and we have come to teach you to know Him. We thought you would be happy to know the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the one true God. Do not be afraid; we shall always be good friends.’
I would like to think that like many missionaries who were warmly welcomed by various peoples across the world, he will soon realise that the one true God had already arrived long ago with the beginning of Creation! However, knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ that inevitably leads all people into a relationship with him, was yet to come.
A sad truth
Decades later, Cambodian Christians were murdered along with many others during the genocide in the 1970s, presided over by the despot Pol Pot. The Church had to begin all over again, and indeed there are many missionaries, including Mill Hill Missionaries, serving in Cambodia today, sharing the love of God by helping those most in need, and healing the wounds of the past.
Sr Mary lives among the people in Kibera and describes her mission as befriending in the name of Jesus. Accompanying people in her community, she helps them live out and strengthen their faith.
Her approach to mission and its context is very different from Fr Arvieu’s, but the heart of the message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ (see Evangelii Gaudium, #11).
World Mission Sunday celebrations
On 22 October, Christians in Cambodia and in Kibera, and in every Catholic community across the world will hopefully celebrate together World Mission Sunday. I say ‘hopefully’ because it is a sad fact that in some parishes this is not celebrated. Please do all you can to help your parish mark this important day.
World Mission Sunday is a wonderful way of expressing solidarity with Catholic communities in every country as we join together to live out the mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to all through prayer and giving.
Together, we live out our call to mission by proclaiming the coming of God’s Kingdom, serving those in need, promoting justice with peace, and bringing people to know God’s goodness.
As I reflect on the Holy Father’s message for World Mission Sunday, which was inspired by the Gospel’s Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), I think of Sr Mary, and so many other missionaries like her, who bring the love and hope of Jesus to people living in situations of extreme poverty and injustice.
When we journey with others and befriend them in their suffering, problems, difficulties, and questions; sometimes, quite mysteriously, our eyes are opened to the presence of the Risen Christ, something that is profoundly fulfilled in the celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of God’s mission (cf. Pope Francis’ WMS Message).
‘Love is the only thing that cannot hurt your neighbour’, writes St Paul. If mission is about befriending, welcoming, accompanying, respecting, serving, and listening to others, then missionary activity can do no harm. On the contrary, inviting others into a relationship with God, the source of love, can only be good for all concerned.
Not everyone agrees with this, and there is an abundance of problems, difficulties, and resistance. Pope Francis encourages us: ‘The Lord is greater than all our problems, above all if we encounter them in our mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the world. For in the end, this mission is his and we are nothing more than his humble co-workers, “useless servants”’ (Luke 17:10).
As one useless servant to another, may God bless us all, and give us the courage to be good missionary disciples. Amen.