On 3 June, the Feast of the Ugandan Martyrs, St Charles Lwanga & Companions, we joined supporters and volunteers at a special Mission Mass for Salford Diocese. Fr Gerry Hastie MHM, Vicar General for the Mill Hill Missionaries in Europe & North America, shared his reflections on mission, and on his recent visit to India.

A very Mission Mass

We were delighted to be able to welcome such a great number of missionaries to celebrate in person at the Mass, which took place in Salford Cathedral. Fr Gerry MHM concelebrated the Mass with Fr Jan MHM, who organises the Mass every year, and Fr Vincent MHM. Fr Dermot MHM, who had concelebrated the Shrewsbury Diocese Massearlier that day, travelled with us from Birkenhead, arriving just in time to concelebrate the second Mission Mass of the day!

We also welcomed several Sisters from the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph, who were visiting from Kenya. Sr Emily FMSJ kindly read the Universal Prayers of the Church.

A wonderful spread of refreshments followed Mass, along with a lively discussion of all things Mission and Missio.

The example of the Ugandan Martyrs

In his homily, Fr Gerry referred to the Ugandan Martyrs on their Feast Day. He noted that Catholics, Anglicans and Muslims had been amongst those martyred and referred to the young age of the Catholic Martyrs (the youngest martyr was only 14 years old).

Fr Gerry reflected that persecution of Christians sadly continues around world, but that the Gospel reading, which was the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), describes how we can meet the challenge, and what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Our universal family

Fr Gerry brought with him a clay pot with a slot in it, from North India, which was used by communities there to collect money. It is the equivalent of the Red Box, but to access the money, you have to smash the pot, much like an old fashioned piggy bank.

The little pot was such a potent symbol of our universal family, and a reminder that, just as we collect money and pray for communities around the world, so do our sisters and brothers overseas. Together we are a global force for faith, hope, and the love of God.

A thriving mission in Vishunpur

Two months ago Fr Gerry visited North India where Mill Hill Missionaries have been working for about 13 years. The mission is a Catholic Ashram in Vishunpur, Chhattisgarh. It’s set among the Dalit people, who are considered outside of the caste system (sadly seen as ‘untouchables’).

Fr Suresh Kocherla (celebrating Mass in this picture) has been there since his ordination in 2010 and has established a primary school, run with the help of the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk. The school – with over 300 pupils – is highly respected in the area. Most of the children would be from Hindu families. The mission serves Christian families spread over about six villages.

A humbling experience from Holy Thursday

Fr Gerry shares:

‘I arrived at the mission in the afternoon of Holy Thursday. For the people, who are considered untouchable, touch is very important. New visitors are invited to sit and have their feet washed – I was no exception.

‘It was a very hot day, I was wearing sandals and my feet were swollen and sweaty with the heat and dirty with the dust – I wasinvited to sit and a sister removed my sandals and bathed my feet and then anointed them with oil.

‘It was a very uncomfortable, but humbling experience. It struck me – perhaps for the first time – the impact that this action of Jesus must have had on the disciples when he washed their feet. It was a necessary action – people had been walking all day, their feet dirty, sweaty, and probably not smelling too sweetly – before people sat down to eat, and an action normally reserved for a servant or young person.

‘Jesus washed their feet – he met them where they were dirty, smelly, unattractive – this is how God meets us, how God met me through the sister who bathed and anointed my feet. In the evening I had the opportunity to reciprocate that gift of welcome through washing the feet of a few of the elders from the nearby village during the celebration of the Eucharist of Holy Thursday.

‘Mill Hill Missionaries work and live with the people. They provide primary education for pupils from Hindu, Muslim and Christian backgrounds. The fact that missionaries live and work with the Dalit people lets them know that they are not forgotten. They help them to recognise that no one is ‘untouchable’ to God.’

All together now!

As Fr Gerry’s story shows, your small (and not so small) change is making huge changes to the lives of our poorest and most marginalised sisters and brothers. We are so grateful to all our Red Box volunteers and supporters. You are missionary disciples, and together we are igniting God’s love throughout the world.

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