World Mission Sunday: Origins and Meaning

In our latest issue of Intercom we celebrate the Mission Month of October. Fr Maurice Hogan SSC, National Director of World Missions Ireland wrote to us on the Origins and Meaning of World Mission Sunday. 

Until relatively recent times, the proclamation of the Gospel to non-Christians was regarded as the exclusive work of missionary societies and religious congregations. Diocesan clergy concentrated on pastoral work and missionary activity remained on the fringes of their concerns. Awareness of and responsibility for the Church’s universal mission was reawakened and promoted by Vatican Council II, but evangelisation had already found a new dynamism in post-revolutionary France in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Charismatic in origin, it was recognised subsequently as “pontifical” by papal decree. It comprises four complementary branches and is collectively known as the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS):

  • Our October 2017 cover highlighting the World Mission Sunday poster.

    The Society for the Propagation of the Faith (SPF) was founded by a laywoman, Pauline Jaricot, in 1818. Its purpose was to maintain the spirit of Pentecost that sent the apostles to the far ends of the earth. This missionary spirit belongs to the very nature of the Church. SPF helps form apostolic commitment and animation for participation in mission through prayer, sacrifice and the collection of funds.
  • The Society of Peter the Apostle (SPA) was also established by a laywoman, Jeanne Bigard, in 1899 to help in the formation of local clergy through prayer and monetary offerings that support and maintain seminaries and candidates for the priesthood and religious life.
  • Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson set up the Society of Missionary Children (SMC) to enlist the support of children to help other children in mission countries. The National Day of Prayer for Children (October 13th) highlights children as a spiritual force for the transformation of the world. Its motto “children helping children” through prayer, sacrifice and offerings helps create awareness among children and adolescents of the plight of their less well-off counterparts in poorer mission countries.
  • The Pontifical Missionary Union (PMU) of clergy, religious, seminarians (and recently, laity as well) was inaugurated by Fr Paulo Manna in 1916 to support missionary animation and formation of clergy, religious, seminarians and laity to promote the missionary spirit in their respective communities. PMU serves to remind us that mission has its origin in the mission of the Son and Holy Spirit and that only in Jesus Christ is “salvation offered to all people, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy” (EN 27).

The PMS in Ireland at present operates under the brand name World Missions Ireland. Its universal solidarity fund consists of monetary offerings given by the faithful on World Mission Sunday. Criteria for financing projects have been established to guarantee a fair distribution of funds, according to the needs of each mission diocese.  It must never be forgotten, however, that the first and primary contribution that each one of us is called to offer to the missionary work of the Church is prayer: “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest” (Lk 10:2).

The Mission Month of October, with its high point in the celebration of World Mission Sunday (22 October), offers diocesan and parish communities an opportunity to renew their commitment to proclaim the Gospel and give pastoral activities a greater missionary perspective. One of the objectives of World Mission Sunday is to solicit aid to carry out the tasks of evangelisation in mission territories. This aid supports institutions necessary for establishing and consolidating the Church through seminaries, priests, religious, catechists and for improving the standard of living, human advancement, justice and liberation from every kind of oppression.

By means of our contribution, we are cooperating in the implementation of God’s saving plan for all humanity. The missionary mandate, however, cannot be fulfilled without a profound personal, community and pastoral conversion: “An authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church” (SC 84) that prays and offers fraternal and concrete help to support the young churches in mission lands. The Church’s mission is to spread hope among all peoples, for at stake is the eternal salvation of all.

There is a call today for a re-launch and appreciation of mission at parish, diocesan, national and international levels with the publication of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (2015). He reminds all of us of our missionary responsibility as People of God and invites us to participate in the evangelisation of the world.

Fr Maurice Hogan, SSC

National Director, World Missions Ireland