Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mission and ministry

Before I came to Honduras in 2007, I worked for almost 24 years in campus ministry and social ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center.

When I went to Ames to be interviewed for the position at St. Thomas I was pleasantly surprised at the sense of outreach and mission that the parish had in its ministry with students at Iowa State University.

I felt that at St. Thomas the students were being welcomed to live their faith in an active way. My impression, at that time, was that many Catholic universities relied on a campus culture of Catholicism to reach Catholic students. But St. Thomas had the wisdom to see the importance of reaching out and challenging the students, in the midst of a culture that was not Catholic. It was refreshing.

When I began ministry there in July 1983, I noted that there was an interesting item in the job description – “campus walks.” I soon learned the wisdom and the importance of that responsibility.

I began to walk on campus, sometimes with other campus ministers, sometimes with students. I soon began to meet a good number of faculty members and students. I got involved in a number of groups, mostly as an outsider accompanying them. I also got involved in some activities of the campus’ Committee on Lectures.

At the church I also began what I consider one of the most important part of my ministries – greeting students before and after Mass. I would stand at the entrances and exits and greet students, sometimes asking their names (and quickly forgetting them), sometimes starting a conversation, sometimes inviting them to specific events we had at the center. And then, when I’d walk on campus, any number of students would greet me.

Being present where people are has been an important part of ministry for me.

It was not enough to wait in an office in the church for people to show up.

Coming here to Honduras, this has become even clearer, especially as I’m working in a parish. I have the witness of our current pastor who is often on the go. There are about 50 villages and towns in the parish and he tries to be present for Mass in each village at least once every two months. He also has between five and seven Masses each Sunday – a Saturday evening Mass in the seat of one municipality, a 7 am Mass in the seat of another municipality, a 9 am Mass in one of the churches in the parish center, an afternoon Mass in different villages or in the seat of another municipality, and a 7 pm Mass in the main parish church.

The sacraments are mostly celebrated in the distinct towns and villages. This means that the religious education takes place in more than 40 places in the parish. So I have training sessions about five times a year – often repeating the workshop in each of the four zones of the parish. I’ve also accompanied the pastor often to preach and baptize in different places on Sundays and during the week.

Mission and being a missionary means going out, not staying fixed. For a hermit like me, this can be difficult at times, but the calling is a real blessing.

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