THE CATHOLIC Missionary Society was founded by Cardinal Vaughan in 1903 to meet some of the demands of evangelisation and parish renewal. There are 10 CMS priests from 10 dioceses working out of their headquarters at 114 West Heath Road, London NW3 (above). Here Fr Thomas McHugh the CMS superior (right) explains what mission means.
ONE SATURDAY afternoon recently ten priests prepared for yet another missionary journey. This time it was parishes in Liverpool, Manchester, Saltcoats and Bolton which had invited the Catholic Missionary Society to conduct a two-week mission of renewal.
As some priests packed their bags others had another look at the road map. Those with longer journeys to make had already said goodbye. and asked for the prayers of the Franciscan Sisters who share in the work of the society.
Fr John, editor of the Catholic Gazette, would be taking his typewriter along on this mission. For the next two weeks Fr Peter, the Director of the Catholic Enquiry Centre, would be helping many to discover the message of Christ through the written word.
Meanwhile, more than two hundred miles away. Barbara was taking her turn at typing the parish newsletter. As she folded them the thought for the week in this issue was still on her mind. "The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning." Then she remembered the sentence that followed, "The word 'mission' comes from the Latin word to 'send' or 'to be sent'."
She pondered. The Church in this parish is sent. That's what Fr Jim means when he says that we are all missionaries. We are sent to continue the mission of Jesus. If the parish is not burning with missionary endeavours then it is dead. It is covered with its own ashes.
Well. since Fr Jim came as Parish Priest a year ago, the smouldering embers in St George's had been fanned into a great flame. People were beginning to see that being a Catholic was not just about getting to heaven but that each and every baptised person in their own way was to point to Jesus and lead others to recognise Him. In a real sense the whole parish was sent to "be" Jesus for others. Such were Barbara's thoughts as she folded the newsletters.
Then the doorbell rang. That would be the priests who were expected from the Catholic Missionary Society in London. They were going to lead the "parish mission" for the next two weeks. She didn't quite know what to expect as the parish had not had a retreat or mission for the last 30 years.
Barbara had heard her Dad speak highly of a Father Heenan who had given the last mission in the parish. She remembered the day he was buried in Westminster Cathedral. The funeral Mass was on television. As she opened the door she wondered what his successors would be like.
Just a year earlier, shortly after his arrival in the parish. Fr Jim proposed the idea of a parish mission. The newly established parish council received the idea with enthusiasm. A priest from the Catholic Missionary Society was invited to a parish meeting. Close on a hundred people attended.
He explained that missions were different now. No two week spiritual trip for those who sought to indulge in a pious exercise. The mission was to be seen in a pastoral plan for the parish. The aim was to build up a living and missionary parish community.
Following a lively meeting and full discussion it became clear that Sc George's was not just going to have a mission but already it was a parish with a mission to bring the "good news" to the poor, the inactive Catholic. The mission of a parish included reaching out in open dialogue to other Christians to invite their prayerful participation in reaching the non-believer. To bring healing to those who hurt, hope to those in despair, liberty to the enslaved was at the heart of mission.
The motto was "Each one reach one" through prayer and personal contact. Each person in the parish pledged to pray daily for at least one other person who no longer shared fully in the life of the Church. In many instances the prayer was for a member of their own family.
Further, the commitment to sponsorship extended to cultivating friendship and sharing in the other person's search, and faith journey. Finally, they would invite them to share in the celebration of our faith during the mission and indeed offer to accompany them each evening.
Such was the response to this invitation to become 'prayerful sponsors" that ninety parishioners also undertook to fast. This was no ordinary fast — more like the bread and water of a "Lough Derg" and it lasted for a novena of Fridays. Their fast and prayer was indeed a powerful pleading to God for mercy — for the grace of conversion in their own lives and in the lives of the persons they were sponsoring.
With a newsletter still in her hand, Barbara opened the door and announced the arrival of the missioners. The welcome from her. Fr Jim and the few parishioners who were sharing a cup of coffee, was unqualified. This was but a foretaste of the welcome they were to receive in the homes of the people during the week that followed.
Fr Jim explained that every home in the neighbourhood had received a visit from two parishioners. Over a hundred people took part in this. They had been trained and commissioned for the job. Already the value of their exercise in reaching out in friendship and invitation to the mission was bearing much fruit.
Needs were discovered which demanded an answer. Talents and gifts were discerned and were now being exercised in a variety of services. Ministers of' prayer. sponsorship, hospitality in the form of cups of tea after the mission services, ministry of music, Word and Eucharist were to be exercised to the full during this mission. New ministries like those of transport. welcomers, emerged in this parish.
Expectations for the mission were high. At the end of two weeks they were more than satisfied. Word proclaimed,
faith shared, conversion experienced. Members of the church grew up and savoured the joy of growing together in the body of Christ.