Members of the Society of St. James the Apostle depart from New York on Feb. 26, 1960 en route to Peru and Bolivia. Pictured left to right are: front row, Father Daniel G. Lynch, Father Paul F. Mulligan, Father Charles G. Duffy, Society Superior Msgr. Edward F. Sweeney, Father Thomas A. Reilly, Father John E. Thomas and Father Martin R. Kelly; back row, Father John L. Sullivan, now-Bishop Thomas V. Daily, Father John P. Keobane, Father James E. Shanahan and Father John E. Mitchell. Msgr. Sweeney was not traveling with the group but was on-hand to wish the group well. Pilot file photo
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Why, some might ask, should the Church be sending priests to the missions at a time when there is such a pressing need for priests here at home?
Pope Pius XII’s encyclical “Fidei Dominum” answered this question. That document pleaded with bishops around the world to remind the faithful that the Church is not just a building or a parish. Our global Church extends far beyond diocesan borders. As little or as much as we have, there are places which have far less.
The Boston Archdiocese was particularly responsive to “Fidei Dominum.” It became the inspiring force motivating Cardinal Richard Cushing to create the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle in 1958. Even prior to the formation of the society, the archdiocese sponsored a lend-lease priest program to places where priests were in short supply. The Church in Latin America, however, was in desperate need and the Church in Boston was in a perfect position to help in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
Since its founding nearly 50 years ago, the Boston-based St. James Society has attracted diocesan priests from not only across the country but from around the world responding to the missionary call spoken of in “Fidei Dominum.”
In that same spirit, literally hundreds of diocesan priests have left Boston for the missions. We can see now the hand of God in that call, for who then could have predicted that the day would come when returning missionaries would be so valuable in providing services to so many Hispanic Catholics in the archdiocese?
This year, Pope Benedict XVI took occasion to promote cooperation between Christian communities. The pope said that with “the secularized culture ... the crisis of the family, the drop in vocations and the progressive aging of the clergy, churches run the risk of closing in on themselves, of looking to the future with reduced hope and of lessening their missionary efforts. Yet this is precisely the moment to open trustingly to the providence of God, who never abandons his people and who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, guides them towards the accomplishment of his eternal plan for salvation.”
In a real sense, the Holy Father concludes that all Christian communities, made up of priests, religious, and lay volunteers, are born missionaries called to be witnesses in every moment. In fact, returning missionaries are quick to tell you that they never really felt alone. Whether stationed in the high Andes, in city slums, or in steamy jungles, the people of the archdiocese were with them and they knew it. They knew that there were schools where children regularly dropped coins into a mission box. They knew that there were people who put money aside every month to aid them. Most of all, they felt comfort in the knowledge that they were in the prayers of people back home.
So it is that missionary work has particular relevance to the people of the Boston Archdiocese. We heard Rome’s plea to reach out for the “poorest of the poor” and we responded. From that perspective, even now our missionaries are never alone. The prayers and the support of so many people in the archdiocese are always with them.
Frank Mazzaglia is a columnist and a layman associated with the Society of St. James.