Sharing the Gospel worldwide

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In 1862, a diocesan priest from Belgium, Father Theophile Verbist, was inspired to bring the Gospel to the people of China. Motivated by this goal, he formed the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary - Missionhurst. To this day, these missionaries travel the world to reach out to the most neglected people. Their mission is simple: to spread the Gospel wherever it is needed, sometimes at the expense of their lives.

Father Charles Phukutu Khonde is provincial superior of the U.S. province of the General Government of Missionhurst in Arlington, which is home to active and retired missionaries. As a child growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he witnessed firsthand the work of the missionaries and was drawn to their simple life. He would accompany his grandfather, the church sacristan, to church and he got to know the priests and sisters.

"I grew up with the inclination to join them, but I did lose that desire at one time," said Father Khonde.

He felt the call to missionary work again in high school when he met Father Albert Lejoly, a Missionhurst from Belgium.

"(Father Albert) would go to these remote villages to say Mass," said Father Khonde. "He would learn the dialect, eat the food that they ate. He would even sit on the ground with them and eat with them." Father Khonde remembers thinking, "If this Belgian can do this for my own people, why can't I do the same?"

Father Khonde joined Missionhurst, and in 1993 he was assigned to the U.S. province where he attended seminary and was later ordained a priest.

Missionhurst priests currently staff two parishes in the diocese, bringing their unique missionary zeal. Precious Blood Church in Culpeper has been staffed by Missionhurst priests since it became a parish in 1946. The parish recently received the opportunity to minister to the children of Childhelp, a temporary foster home for children who are victims of abuse. Father Anselme Malonda-NKuanga, pastor, celebrates Mass once a month with the children who wish to continue practicing their faith despite their troubled pasts.

In 2013, the diocese turned over administration responsibilities of St. Ann Church in Arlington to Missionhurst. Father Ramel O. Portula became pastor and was joined by Father Pascal Kumanda in 2014.

"St. Ann is such a welcoming community and family," said Father Portula. "As a missionary, I'm glad to come to a parish with leaders who are willing to lead and collaborate with us."

To celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life, the missionaries have taken Pope Francis' message to heart. In addition to participating in events across the country, the annual Missionhurst retreat open to missionaries from the U.S. province, will be on the Year of Consecrated Life.

"This is a God-given gift to all of us religious to one more time give focus to our lives as consecrated men and women," said Father Khonde. "I think it is very challenging but also very inspiring."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015