Earlier this year, Pope Francis reminded all Catholics that “the Church is mission.”
The pope meant that our entire identity as Catholics can be understood as a commission from Christ himself: the salvation of souls. Each one of us is called to be a missionary because, by our baptism, we belong to the mission of the Church, each in our own way. Pope St. John Paul II said it this way: “missionary activity is a matter for all Christians, for all dioceses and parishes, Church institutions and associations.”
Pope Francis has confirmed this self-identity of the Catholic Church in the context of the New Evangelization by reminding us that we are a Church “permanently in mission.”
Our diocese, the Diocese of Lincoln, is called to missionary work. To be sure, we are called to be missionaries here at home, among the people and communities of Southern Nebraska. But we are also called to discern the ways in which God calls us to be missionaries “on the periphery,” among the poor, the marginalized, and those who have not heard the message of the Gospel.
Pope Francis says that we must be a Church that seeks out the marginalized. The pope says there is a special virtue in proclaiming Christ among those who are poor and isolated, and walking, as Christ did, among those often forgotten or maligned.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, Our Lord says; “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required (Luke 12:48).” We have been blessed abundantly in the Diocese of Lincoln in so many ways. We are blessed with holy families and parishes and schools, and with men and women committed to the missionary life of priests and consecrated religious. Next month I will ordain four men as priests of the Diocese of Lincoln. Next year, I will ordain five new priests; they will become deacons this year. Last year, I ordained eight men as priests. In 24 months, the Diocese of Lincoln will have gained 17 new priests—and only one priest will retire. We will have been blessed with a net gain of 16 new priests in two years!
God calls us to be generous stewards of the blessings we are given. In the Diocese of Lincoln, this means allowing and encouraging our priests to serve as missionaries among people in need of sacred ministry. We have priests in service to the military, to seminaries, to the service of the national and universal Church, and to college students through FOCUS. And this year, we are blessed to send two priests as missionaries to sister-dioceses in the United States.
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The Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, is one of last American frontiers. The diocese is 409,849 square miles: more than five times the land area of Nebraska! Fourteen-thousand Catholics live across the vast and isolated territory, working as fisherman, on oil wells, in timber, and other industries. The diocese is home to many native communities. Fairbanks is a beautiful place; but it is also a place in which isolation leads to family difficulty, mental health struggles, and substance abuse. Frontiers are often places in which people run from God, and even from human connection. Frontiers are often places where the Gospel is sorely needed.
The Catholics in Fairbanks are served by just 13 diocesan priests, and a host of missionaries. In July, Father Thomas Kuffel, pastor of parishes in Wallace, Grant and Elsie, will begin a period of service as a missionary to the Diocese of Fairbanks. I am grateful to God for his missionary heart and his willingness to serve.
The Diocese of Gallup, N.M., comprises one of the poorest regions in the United States. It includes reservation land for the Zuni, Hopi, Apache, and Navajo people. The people in Gallup face low employment prospects, minimal infrastructure and services, limited educational opportunities, and, very often, a poverty of hope.
Many people in the Diocese of Gallup are those who seem to have no place in American public life—especially the American Indian families who still face real prejudices and difficulties. I am a descendent of the Wea people, members of the Confederated Peoria Tribe of Kansas. There is a small town in Kansas by the same name where my ancestors are buried. I am very proud of my American Indian heritage. I currently serve on the USCCB’s Subcommittee for Native American Affairs. Through that work, I am aware of the serious needs of native families—especially needs for a deeper connection to the life of the Church herself.
In July, Father Thomas Walsh, pastor of parishes in Geneva and Shickley, will begin a period of service as a missionary to the Diocese of Gallup. In particular, Father Walsh will work closely with the Missionaries of Charity who serve there—religious sisters founded by soon-to-be Saint Mother Theresa, who work with the poorest of the poor. Their center in Gallup also serves as regional retreat house for the Missionaries of Charity serving in the West Coast Region.
The work of our missionary priests is an extension of the generosity of all Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln. Because of God’s blessing—and because of your support—they’re able to brings God’s mercy, especially through the sacraments, to people in need. But the witness of our missionary priests is a reminder for each one of us. The Church is mission, and we all share in the missionary call.
I’m moved by the lay missionary families of the Diocese of Lincoln, serving in places like Haiti, and I’m moved by families in our diocese with a commitment to apostolic and missionary work here, in Southern Nebraska. The Gospel is needed everywhere. God’s mercy is needed everywhere. The poor—materially and spiritually—are always with us. God calls us to serve the poor with our lives, with the Gospel, and with our love. May we be ever generously committed to that mission.
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