October 10, 2023 // National

Pontifical Mission Societies ‘Fearlessly, Courageously’ Propose the Gospel

(OSV News) – The Pontifical Mission Societies “fearlessly, courageously propose the Gospel” amid both hardships and hope, U.S. National Director Monsignor Kieran Harrington told OSV News.

“The truth is that I want to baptize everybody,” he said. “And I don’t make an apology for it. This is what Christ told us to do. So it’s not the soft sell of the Gospel. It’s that life in Christ is transformative to my experience. And if I believe that to be the case, then I want to share that.”

Spanish Missionary of Charity Sister Paul supports a patient Oct. 16, 2009, at the House for the Dying in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Pope Francis told the pontifical mission societies in a message May 21, 2020, that those involved with the church’s missionary activity “should never justify their lack of concern for the poor with the excuse, widely used in particular ecclesiastical circles, of having to concentrate their energies on certain priorities for the mission.” (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

A profound relationship with Christ is at the heart of all four of the societies’ outreaches – something Monsignor Harrington hopes will be highlighted as the universal Catholic Church marks World Mission Sunday on October 22 this year.

Pope Francis’ theme for the 2023 observance is “hearts on fire, feet on the move,” which recalls the encounter between two disciples and the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35).

The collection taken up that day is the primary financial support for the Pontifical Mission Societies, which have a presence in some 1,100 dioceses “mostly in Africa and Asia, (with) some in Latin America,” the Pacific Islands, and parts of Europe, said Monsignor Harrington, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, who was appointed to his role in 2021.

In 2022, that collection in the United States totaled about $30 million, he said, noting that “the United States is extraordinarily generous.”

The worldwide network, which operates at the service of the pope, consists of four organizations. The oldest three were designated “pontifical” by Pope Pius XI in 1922, with a fourth receiving the designation under Pius XII in 1956.

The Society for the Propagation of the Faith (SPF) supports evangelization efforts of the local Church; the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA) educates children about their part in the Church’s missionary outreach; the Society of St. Peter the Apostle trains the next generation of missionary clergy and consecrated religious; and the Pontifical Missionary Union focuses on forming clergy, religious and pastoral leaders more deeply in their role as evangelizers.

“I’m always in awe of what is taking place in the missions and how innovative they can be and how responsive to the promptings of the Spirit,” said Monsignor Harrington, who visits “at least three” mission countries per year.

Missionaries are more needed than ever, he said, and the call has taken on an even deeper meaning in the United States, where the National Eucharistic Revival is underway.

“If you think about why we call it ‘the Mass,’ it’s because the very last words the priest would say in Latin are ‘Ite, missa est’ (‘Go, it has been sent’). It’s a sending,” said Monsignor Harrington. “Our Eucharistic celebration is not for our own personal piety, but it is really that Jesus is strengthening us so that we could … proclaim His Gospel to the ends of the earth … to go well beyond ourselves.”

Jesus is “the one who is pushing us beyond our own places, sending us out to totally rely only on Him,” said Monsignor Harrington.

The societies serve the Church in places where it is “too young, too poor, or too persecuted to sustain itself,” he said.

“It is the work of these priests and nuns every day that is changing these societies,” he said. “It’s providing the health care, the educational institutions … completely pouring yourself out; that’s what they’re doing,” Monsignor Harrington said.

Monsignor Harrington said he hopes Catholics in the United States, particularly children and laypeople, will embrace the call to mission.

“I’m confident that this is going to be a new springtime for us, where we’re able to really focus children in the United States on the need to be concerned about their brothers and sisters in the mission, and re-enliven this whole movement for children to help children in the mission territories,” he said.

In addition, “there are a number of laypeople who feel this call and then go and serve in the missions,” he said. “The U.S. exports democracy and all sorts of other values and culture. How can we not be proponents of the Gospel abroad? We’re reminding everyone of their call, their obligation by virtue of baptism to be a missionary, to be sent out.”

Gina Christian is a National Reporter for OSV News. 

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.