On a day that centered on their own Baptism, more than 100 Catholic teenagers focused their attention on their brothers and sisters around the globe during the diocese’s High School Mission Reach Out held Oct. 13 in Holy Cross High School, Delran.
Stories of missionary experiences in other parts of the world were told by a priest who hails from Nigeria and two young adults who have traveled to what is regarded as the poorest country in the western hemisphere – Haiti.
Click HERE for a gallery of photos.
As the Mission Reach-Outs are designed to show the “global dimension of the Church,” Msgr. Richard L. Tofani, director of the diocesan Office of Missions, emphasized that they are events that can prove to be enlightening for their young audience of high school-aged youth. The students present at this year’s Mission Reach-Out hailed from nine Catholic high schools in the diocese, and it was through their participation in school mission clubs and other community service programs that they were invited to attend the event.
“Mission Reach-Out is the Church’s most important duty,” Msgr. Tofani said to his attentive young audience. “The students involved in (school mission clubs) bring vibrancy. It challenges the students to see beyond their everyday life, that the Church is a universal family.”
Msgr. Tofani reminded the students that Mission Reach-Out was a time for them to “commemorate the most important day” of their lives – the day they were baptized.
“On that day not only were we initiated into the faith, into the Body of Christ, but we also became missionaries for Christ,” said Msgr. Tofani.
“We were called to be his ambassadors to those we meet by the values and virtues we espouse and the way we model Christ for others,” he said.
From Africa to America
Presenter Father Charles Muorah reflected on his own journey of coming to serve as a priest for the Diocese of Trenton 10 years ago. Father Muorah hails from the Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria, and is an adjunct priest serving in St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton.
While Onitsha could be considered a burgeoning archdiocese that is comprised of 1.7 million Catholics with 47 parishes, more than 500 priests including both diocesan and religious order, some 500 religious sisters, more than 500 catechists who are trained as pastoral administrators and more than 1,000 lay ministers, Father Muorah said the archdiocese experiences distress in its ability to provide adequate financial support for seminarian formation. Although there is an average of 16 priests who are ordained each year, Father Muroah said that about 75 percent of those who are qualified to be admitted into the seminary are dropped because of lack of funding and accommodations for their training.
Because of the lack of funding for seminary formation in the Onitsha Archdiocese, Msgr. Tofani noted that Father Muorah raised $15,109 from the mission appeals he led in four diocesan parishes this past summer. The mission appeals were conducted through the diocesan Office’s Missionary Cooperation Plan, Msgr. Tofani said.
Father Muorah recalled when Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit to Nigeria in 1982 and directed the archbishop to send priests on “mission to other parts of the world.” He noted that there are currently some 35 priests from the Onitsha Archdiocese who serve in different parts of Nigeria, six in other dioceses in Africa, 20 in Europe, 65 in North America and four in Australia.
Students’ attention was drawn to another part of the world when they were shown a compelling video of the devastation of the January, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Presenters Kaitlyn Campbell and David Walsh, both of Springfield, Mass., commanded the full attention of the students as they discussed their ministry to the country’s poor through Hands Together.
Hands Together is a Catholic organization founded in 1986 by Father Tom Hagan, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales priest and former Princeton University chaplain, and Doug Campbell. Hands Together has emerged as a key educational and development agency in Haiti’s largest and poorest slum, Cite Soleil. The agency has helped to build new schools, provide each student with a daily hot meal, and it also operates a free clinic and an elderly outreach and housing program. Outside of Port-au-Prince, Hands Together helps to promote human development among the rural poor through water well digging, promoting agricultural and production, and assisting the poorest schools and clinics around the northern city of Gonaives.
Kaitlyn Campbell became involved in Hands Together through her father, Doug Campbell, and was 10 years old when she first traveled to Haiti. David Walsh’s introduction was less than a year ago after graduating from Lasell College in Newton, Mass., with a degree in finance. Walsh said he began working with an insurance company that he learned was not “very reputable.”
“I couldn’t make a living being dishonest, so I left,” he said, and soon joined the staff of Hands Together, where he is responsible for scheduling mission appeals and other office work.
Walsh, who has had occasion to travel to Haiti, encouraged his audience to “find your passion in life and use it to make the world a better place.”
“You just have to have a good heart and you’ll find your niche of how to help others with your individual talents,” he said.
Mission Work at Home
Students from around the diocese as well as their mission moderators found the annual Mission Reach-Out to be an event that was inspiring and energizing, and they appreciated having time to reflect on their role as missionaries.
Drawing the connection between the missions and charity undertaken in Christ’s name, Sister Bernadette Thomas, mission club moderator at Holy Cross High, said, “it is part of our mission to help develop our students to be missionaries for Jesus in their local communities and around the globe.”
“There are people suffering and they need to hear Jesus’ message of love,” said Sister Bernadette.
Holy Cross High School senior Jalen Burks said he joined the Mission Club on the advice of friends. He noted that the Mission Club is a year-round organization that works to raise money for the missions both overseas and in America, and how the club raises funds to pay for the tuition of two students in Kenya, Africa, and one in Camden. Burks said he has come to enjoy helping others through the Mission Club, especially with the Special Olympics event that’s held for special needs children.
Filippini Sister Lesley Draper, principal of the Upper School at Villa Victoria Academy, Ewing, said that while the school does not have an actual mission club, the missions are frequently discussed in religion classes.
The missions of the Religious Teachers Filippini, which staff Villa Victoria Academy, “are particularly close to our hearts,” said Sister Lesley. “We tell the students about experiences that our sisters have with the people they serve, especially the children. As a result, the students give generously to support these endeavors.”
Sister Lesley noted that the four students and mission coordinator, Filippini Sister Ella Mae McDonald, who attended the Mission Reach-Out, were “so uplifted when they returned that they were already planning for next year!”
For Trenton Catholic Academy juniors Lillian Gonzalez and Daniella Virgen, the Mission Reach-Out struck a chord on a personal level, as both students have some experience of Third World countries. Gonzalez shared that her parents made great sacrifices when they emigrated to the United States from Ecuador, a country that has its share of people in great need.
Virgen, who is a member of St. Joseph Parish, Trenton, told of the struggles her parents endured when they emigrated from Colombia years ago. Her father arrived in the United States more than 20 years ago, and her mother came 17 years ago.
“When I went to Colombia to visit,” Virgen said, “it was an experience that brought me down to earth. And now I want to try to reach out and help others.”