Bots, apps, trips: U.S. mission societies connect people in many ways


By Carol Glatz

connections — not just collections — drives the work of the Pontifical
Mission Societies.

That is why the United States’ office
tapped into the rich digital-media milieu to offer a Facebook Messenger bot to
connect with Pope Francis and a MISSIO app for smartphone users to support and
get updates on mission projects around the world.

The internet “is the great connector,
so we looked at how we could put this amazing technology that connects people
instantaneously” together with the great millennia-old human network of
the church, Oblate Father Andrew Small, national director of the Pontifical
Mission Societies in the United States, told Catholic News Service.

The global network of the church
“shares not just an idea or a mission statement, but shares this theology
that we are all part of the one body of Christ,” he said. Merging the two
— the church and the web — he said, has meant Catholics all over the world
can put a face on their brothers and sisters in need, assist them and feel a
part of one human family.

Father Small and others talked to CNS May
9 as the Oblate priest led a pilgrimage to the Vatican, Rome and other Italian
cities in early May for diocesan directors and supporters of the Pontifical
Mission Societies in the United States. They also visited and held talks at the
international office at the Vatican.

Pope Francis and his predecessors have
underlined how mission work and charity shouldn’t be about
“efficiency,” but about passion, said Oblate Father Ryszard Szmydki,
secretary-general of the Vatican-based Society for the
Propagation of the Faith.

“It’s passion about mission and the
responsibility to serve that creates the spirit of communion and
community,” he said.

“Every Catholic should think
universally and evangelize all over the world,” the missionary priest

And that is often the biggest challenge
for mission directors: how to get the average Catholic in the pew to feel
connected to and invested in “our brothers and sisters in the mission
field,” said Father Patrick Posey, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies
for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.

Father Posey said he delivers homilies and
talks on poverty and other forms of deprivation, but people don’t really
understand what having no running water, electricity or roads really means
until he takes people on a mission trip to the two parishes the Arlington Diocese helps support through its missionary partnership in the Dominican

Sometimes all it takes is to hand a small
child “a dollar store tennis ball and see the joy” on that child’s face
to make the visitors from the Arlington Diocese connect with the local
townspeople. “They see and remember the same joy they saw on their own
child’s face when they played,” he said.

Young adults on a mission trip are asked
to reflect together on the day and, he said, many would be in tears, upset by
seeing such large families living in one small dirt hut and with so few

But, Father Posey would tell the teens,
“you didn’t see their joy” and excitement. “You were crying
because you saw what they didn’t have,” and missed seeing the spirit,
faith and community they did possess.

What surprises many people, he said, is
realizing how much they were helped by the mission communities they had gone to
help. “Countless parents,” he said, have told him over the years
“how that experience changed my son’s or daughter’s life.”

Father Posey said he avoids campaigns like
“dress-down day” fundraisers, in which students make a small donation
so they can dress casually on a Friday.

“The problem is, if you ask the kids
on Monday what happened,” they only remember the treat of not wearing a
uniform, not whom they are helping or why.

In fact, one of the reasons the bygone
mission campaign of “save the pagan babies” was so successful and
still remembered by older donors today is because it created “a concrete
image in people’s minds,” he said.

“People remember the baby they saved,
they got a photo, information and Archbishop (Fulton) Sheen was on
television” talking about supporting the mission “so people felt they
were in collaboration, it was real, there was a face.”

“Now we’re inundated with so much
paper and emails it’s hard to put a face on it,” which is why the MISSIO
app is meant to reconnect Catholics with real people, real projects and real
faces as well as get feedback from the religious running the mission.

Father Szmydki said the Pontifical Mission
Societies let every Catholic, even the poorest, contribute in some way “to
a common basket” of a universal fund. That way, for example, he said a chapel
built in mission territory truly becomes “our chapel” — a home built
by and for the one family of God.

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Follow Glatz on
Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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