**Diocesan mission collection to be taken up July 20-21**
Catholic missions are all about the encounter.
God continues to reveal Himself through a deliberate, ongoing, mutually enriching exchange of the Gospel, whether among the closest of neighbors or those who live half a world apart.
Jesus is present in all of it, delighting in the grandest and most basic human interactions and using them to draw people ever-closer to Him and the Father Who sent Him.
How this happens may vary over time, but the goal remains the building up of relationships and the salvation of souls.
“Mission today is a relationship, a mutual sharing of charity and mercy,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight asserted.
In anticipation of the diocesan Mission Collection, which will be taken up July 20-21, Bishop McKnight spoke of the role of mission in this diocese and how it creates bonds that span oceans and continents.
“As a young diocese founded in 1956, we have always been dependent upon missionary priests serving us, from the very beginning,” he noted.
“And we continue to be dependent upon them today. So we are very grateful.”
That gratitude should lead to action, he said.
He noted that much of the money from this year’s collection will be used to help support the work of the Church in dioceses in Asia and Africa that have priests serving here.
“So there’s a mutual support in sharing in the work of the Church,” he said. “And I think it’s important that as we recognize our obligation of charity to help the Church throughout the world, we give a priority to the dioceses that are serving us, as well.”
The Jefferson City diocese has a long and successful history of mission.
At one time, fully one-tenth of the priests of this diocese were serving in the diocese’s mission parishes in Peru.
They returned to Missouri permanently affected by their encounter with the people of Christ’s Church on the Peruvian coast and altiplano.
In recent years, the diocese’s mission endeavors have branched out into places such as the Philippines and the Diocese of Jashpur in India.
Bishop McKnight said it’s important to cultivate mission bonds with overseas dioceses in the Developing World “first and foremost because of Our Lord’s command to love one another and His prayer that we be of one mind and one heart.”
He likened the obligations of this diocese to St. Paul’s encouragement of the churches at Corinth and Galatia to be generous and to help care for the poor of the Church in Jerusalem.
“We have many resources that many countries in the Developing World do not have,” Bishop McKnight noted.
And while there are many organizations that help feed the poor and help take care of the sick, “there are very, very few organizations that help take care of the Church,” he said.
“So it is our obligation as the Church in the Diocese of Jefferson City to help the churches, especially those mission dioceses that are providing ministers to serve us here,” he said.
A call to the margins
He drew a distinction between service and mission, which are often connected and are both necessary for Catholic Christians.
“We have an obligation to serve the poor, no matter who they are,” he pointed out. “But we also have an obligation to help other Catholic Churches throughout the world, to help them with their mission in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.”
He noted that through Pope Francis, God is renewing His worldwide call for Catholics to encounter Jesus in their brothers and sisters — “especially those who are far away, who do not look like us, who do not have what we have, who call us to go farther and farther away from where we are most comfortable.”
Jesus cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, restored mobility to the lame and even raised the dead back to life.
“And we are called to do that in our own way today by the gifts that God gives us,” said Bishop McKnight, “both material as well as spiritual.”
Body and soul
The diocesan mission collection helps sustain various ministries, including the building of churches and chapels and helping prepare catechists to teach the faith, in addition to providing for material needs for the people in their local communities.
“So we’re not only providing material assistance with our mission collection,” said Bishop McKnight. “We are also helping the preaching of the Gospel in missionary territory.
“I can’t think of a better way and a more efficient way for us to help those who are in need elsewhere than to support the local churches there that we know are doing a very good job of ministering to the poor.”
Beside restful waters
Bishop McKnight once visited a village in Ethiopia where Catholics in the United States had recently paid to dig a well and provided assistance to local farmers.
The results were stark and immediate.
Previously, the children had to walk up to 5 miles each way to fetch water for their families, leaving them no time to go to school.
“The Catholic Church providing a fresh-water well within the community allowed the children of that little village to attend school for the first time,” he said.
While there, he was startled to find tremendous joy and enthusiasm, even among people experiencing chronic poverty and difficulty acquiring even the most basic necessities.
“I found them to be even happier than we are with all our wealth and all the things we have,” he said. “When you visit a place like that, you can see that we as Americans are actually very poor. We’re poor in spirit.”
He found the people’s everyday approach to life in spite of its difficulties to be a strong witness to people who have too much of everything and don’t appreciate it.
The most visible way that witness reaches the people of Missouri is through priests who grew up in communities like the one Bishop McKnight visited and come here to serve as missionaries in local parishes.
“The enthusiasm with which many of our international priests carry-out their baptismal calling reflects how warmly their families and communities accept and act upon the Good News back home,” he said.
At home and far away
He noted that it’s important for Catholics in this diocese not to turn their backs on people still suffering from recent natural disasters in the diocese and lingering poverty.
“Indeed, we do have an obligation to take care of those in need right on our back steps and in our own communities,” he said. “And we are doing that and will continue to do that.
“But God has blessed us with enough resources that we can also help those who experience great difficulties on a daily basis,” he said.