By Cian Molloy - 21 October, 2019
The Mission Sunday Mass in Thurles Cathedral yesterday (Sunday 20 October) was given extra poignancy and urgency when Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly asked the congregation to pray for a colleague of his, Fr Pier Luigi Maccalli, an SMA missionary who is being held captive in Niger for over a year now.
Archbishop O’Reilly, who is also a member of the SMA order – Societas Missionum ad Afros (Society of African Missions) – first asked the faithful to pray for Fr Pier Luigi in September last year when he was seized by suspected jihadists in South Niger, near the border with Burkina Faso.
World Mission Sunday is a day when the worldwide Church unites in praying for missionaries at home and overseas, including ourselves who are called to be missionaries for Christ. As Archbishop O’Reilly said: ‘Mission Sunday is a day in which the Church throughout the world, whether it is in a fine cathedral like this one here in Thurles or the most remote Mass centre in one of the many missionary dioceses of the world, gathers to pray with a single purpose: To recall that mission that has been entrusted to each baptised member of the Church to bring the Good News of salvation of Jesus Christ.’
Speaking at the midday Mass, Archbishop O’Reilly said: ‘It is good at this moment of prayer to remember the missionaries who may be in difficult situations because of war and civil unrest.
‘At this time, I particularly ask that you remember a colleague of mine – Father Pier Luigi Maccalli SMA – from Italy, who was kidnapped in Niger. Father Pier is still in the hands of his captors and I commend him to your thoughts and prayers. We remember the small missionary communities that Father Pier served as pastor in Niger and pray for his safe return.’
In the wake of World War I, in 1919, Pope Benedict XV published Maximum Illud, an apostolic letter that defines the way the Church views its missionary role. Archbishop O’Reilly said that document recognised a ‘need for a more evangelical approach to missionary work in the world, so that it would be purified of any colonial overtones and kept far away from the nationalistic and expansionistic aims that had proved so disastrous’.
It was an approach to mission that was warmly embraced by Ireland’s Catholics in the years following national independence.
‘Ireland has a great tradition of involvement in the modern missionary outreach of the Church. From every parish in Ireland women and men travelled literally to the ends of the earth as missionaries,’ Archbishop O’Reilly said. ‘Through their lives of witness and the work of their missionary institutes they contributed enormously to the mission entrusted to the Church by the Lord. It is an involvement that we can all be rightly proud of.’
Now, Pope Francis wants to re-awaken the commitment of the entire Church to the work of evangelisation, for he sees the church as ‘missionary by her very nature’.
As a result, said Archbishop O’Reilly, we are called on ‘not to be afraid to undertake, with trust in God and great courage, a missionary option capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation’.
Finishing his homily, the missionary-turned-Archbishop of Cashel and Emly asked the congregation to recite with him the Prayer for the Extraordinary Month of Mission.
The text of that prayer is:
When your only begotten Son
Jesus Christ rose from the dead,
He commissioned his followers to
“go and make disciples of all nations”
And you remind us that through
our Baptism we are made sharers
in the mission of the Church.
Help us make it possible
for all peoples to experience the saving
love and mercy of Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever.