The message of what it means to live the baptismal call and bring the light of Christ to others was the focus for the grammar school-aged students who gathered for the annual Mission Reach-Out held Oct. 27 in St. Aloysius School, Jackson.
This year’s Mission Reach-Out, which had as its theme, “Go Light Your World,” featured workshops with missionaries hailing from all corners of the world, Mass and the presentation of awards to schools and religious education programs in recognition for their outstanding support to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith and the Holy Childhood Association.
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“As we gather together we are reminded that we are the light sent into the world to dispel the darkness of fear and doubt,” said Elizabeth O’Connor, principal of St. Aloysius School, in her welcoming remarks to the 170 Catholic school and parish religious education students from throughout the diocese. “We are called to heal, we are called to be hope, we are called to feed the hungry and quench the thirst of those who yearn to see the face and feel the presence of our Lord.”
Explaining the goal of the Mission Reach-Out, Msgr. Richard Tofani, who celebrates his 25th anniversary as director of the diocesan Office of Missions this year, said they are intended to help students grow in their awareness of how to be “better missionaries, better ambassadors of Jesus Christ” in their own schools parishes and local communities.
“You are here today because you have shown an exceptional capacity in wanting to understanding your life and even a greater capacity in wanting to share it,” said Msgr. Tofani. “You are missionaries for Christ and I am proud and honored to be a missionary with you.”
Msgr. Tofani continued that the Mission Reach-Outs are also an occasion for the students to commemorate the “most important day of your life – the day of your Baptism.”
“On that day, two special things happened. First, you were welcomed into the Body of Christ – the Church. Second you became missionaries – ambassadors of Jesus Christ.”
The panel of speakers who were invited by the diocesan Missions Office to host workshops at the Mission Reach-Out were Sister Margaret Anne Meyer, a member of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria; Sister Ellen Anderson, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, Zambia; Sister Rosemary Hayes, a member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Ghana, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic and Lesotho; Father Charles Galiath and Father John Hurley, both members of the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales, South Africa; Father Thomas Vellappallil, a member of the LaSalette Missionaries, India Philippines and Haiti; Father Kevin J. Hanlon, a Maryknoll priest, Japan, and Maryknoll Brother John Blazo, Guatemala.
Student participants noted how they appreciated the way the Mission Reach-Out opened the windows on the world and how the presentations helped them realize the religious convictions of many of the seven missionaries who devoted their lives to serving people in other parts of the world.
Allyson Rugarber and Cassie Giglio, both eighth graders in Holy Family School, Lakewood, commented on how intrigued they were to hear Father Hanlon talk about Japanese culture, history as well as the ways in which Catholic missionaries serve in Japan.
Robyn Abrams, a sixth grader from Villa Victoria Academy, Ewing, was enlightened to hear Father Vallappallil talk about his own vocation as a LaSalette priest and his years of service in his native India, his 11 years in the Philippines, and how religious community began serving in Haiti two years ago.
Abrams’ classmate, Ashley Daniels was particularly heartened to hear Father Hurley and Father Galiath’s presentation on South Africa and was interested to learn how the country had gained its independency as a nation just 21 years ago.
The Mission Reach-Out students and their mission moderators also reflected on how they help to support the missions various projects within their various school and parish communities.
Ginny Fama, director of religious education in Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Hainesport, and Debbie Thomas, second grade catechist in the parish, said that in addition to having Msgr. Tofani, who is pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, address the religious education classes about the missions and showing mission-related videos, the students also participate in the Mite Box collection to benefit the Holy Childhood Association during Lent and Advent.
“Kids are fascinated to learn how even a small amount like 12 cents can help people in other countries,” said Thomas. “Hearing something like that really hits home. They understand that they, too, can have an impact on the lives of others.”