Sunday, August 23, 2009

Maryknoll and the Missions

This is my second post on China.

"Maryknoll was established in 1911 as the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America by the Bishops of the United States. Responsibility for its development fell to two diocesan priests, Fr. James Anthony Walsh of Boston and Fr. Thomas Frederick Price of North Carolina, with the commission to recruit, send and support U.S. missioners in areas around the world. On June 29, 1911, Pope Pius X blessed the founding of Maryknoll. Maryknoll's first missioners left for China in 1918. Today there are over 475 Maryknoll priests and Brothers serving in countries around the world, principally in Africa, Asia and Latin America." (from the Maryknoll website)

While I was at the Maryknoll house in Hong Kong, I read the short biographies of the many men who have passed through the ranks of Maryknoll over the years. Mission work had its up and downs. Some lives were long and others incredibly short. Illness cut short mission work but zeal for souls kept men doing whatever it took. Most of these men entered at such young ages and dedicated their entire lives. Their heroism still shines today.

"For most of the 20th century, the history of Maryknoll intertwined with the history of Asia. Japanese imperial expansion, World War II, the Chinese Communist Revolution and wars in Korea and Vietnam all took their tolls. Maryknollers were imprisoned or expelled from China and Korea. Bishop Francis X. Ford died in a Chinese prison. Bishop James E. Walsh (no relation to the founder) spent 12 years in prison and under solitary house arrest. Some missioners followed the Chinese people into exile in Taiwan; others opened missions in the Philippines. Bishop Patrick Byrne died on the North Korean Death March. Sister Agneta Chang was captured and never seen again. As a chaplain in Vietnam, Father Vincent Capodanno was killed in 1967 as he ministered to a wounded soldier." (again from the website)

Today I think Maryknoll is at a unique point in their history. They, like most religious groups and dioceses, suffer from a vocations shortage and their ranks are getting old. But their work is far from complete. Starting this summer, I must admit in my honest manner, that I had serious questions about Maryknoll. A priest in Maryknoll assuaged many of my doubts through his own words and actions. In fact, though Maryknoll may struggle like any other Catholic organization, they have and continue to do much to witness the Gospel. The men of Maryknoll are unique to say the least. But I think in their diversity of personality, they have found beautiful and glorious ways to serve God and His Church. And we need to find ways to support them and support vocations for them as well.

I write about Maryknoll because I believe we need to continue mission work. China and other places as well need missioners. Have you considered the foreign missions? Have you considered their lay programs that allow you to serve in places like China and Africa for a year or longer? I know that my summer in China has given me a great desire to bring both young men and women to consider Maryknoll as their vocation but also to bring youth and young adults to do mission work abroad. Further, they also have programs where diocesan priests can serve a few years in a mission location on loan from their diocese. And perhaps, considering the dirth of vocations, is it not part of the responsibility of dioceses in the U.S. to provide a few priests for the missions? And this is not necessarily contrary to the charism of the diocesan priest considering the fact that Maryknoll priests are diocesan too. The failure to see the Church as universal can only hurt the Church, even as the local level, by creating this sense that the Church is just us. But in fact the Church is all Catholics everywhere. We know this. There is so much that can be done but we must have the zeal and courage to go and do it.

Bishop James Walsh, one of the founders of Maryknoll, once said that "a missioner is someone who goes where he is not wanted but needed and stays until he is wanted, but not needed." Right now, many places are wanting. Are you willing to fill the need?


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