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“How many saints, how many men and women of faith, witness to the fact that this unlimited openness, this going forth in mercy, is indeed possible and realistic, for it is driven by love and its deepest meaning as gift, sacrifice and gratuitousness.” — Pope Francis

Pope Francis declared October 2019 to be Extraordinary Missionary Month with the theme: “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.” This declaration combines the pastoral concern of Pope Benedict XV’s apostolic letter “Maximum Illud,” published 100 years ago, with the missionary vitality expressed by Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “Missionary action is the paradigm of every work of the Church.”

There are several programs in our diocese that follow Pope Francis’ directive, among them Medical Missionaries, Operation Starfish and Commissioned by Christ. As with other mission programs, they embody shared responsibility and connection to our world.

In May 1997, Dr. Gil Irwin, a parishioner of All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, was asked to lead a medical team to the Dominican Republic to assess the health care needs of the people. Over the next several months, volunteers were recruited, and supplies and medicines were collected for a trip to the remote mountainous villages of Bánica. Once there, the missionaries learned that most people had never seen a doctor. The team realized the situation would not be changed greatly as a result of this one trip and started discussions of how to best help the Dominicans moving forward. 

Today, Medical Missionaries is an organization of more than 200 doctors, nurses, dentists and other interested individuals of all faiths, who volunteer their time and skills serving the poor throughout the world, caring for the ill, and working to eradicate the underlying causes of illness.

Operation Starfish began in 1998 as a simple program of sacrifice by the late Father Richard V. Martin at Church of the Nativity in Burke. He asked his parishioners to commit small acts of charity during Lent — such as skipping that order of fries or extra pizza topping and giving that money to the neediest among us. That first year the program raised nearly $67,000. Nativity used the funds to build 27 simple houses in Haiti, working through the Food For The Poor Inc. 

Operation Starfish has grown over the years and now includes Stella Marina Mission and Fish4Hope.

Stella Marina provides vital services to pregnant women in Haiti by supplying birthing kits that include disposable items to ensure sanitary birthing practices, and newborn kits that contain onesies, receiving blankets, diapers and pins. Fish4Hope concentrates on developing self-sustaining fish farming projects in Haiti.

Commissioned by Christ was created and launched by Jessica Berrada. As a faithful lay Catholic woman, Berrada felt the strong call to missionary work. She recognized that Catholic priests, and consecrated religious brothers and sisters, often answered Jesus’ invitation to engage in corporal and spiritual works of mercy through missionary work. She asked herself, “What about the rest of us?” Most Catholics seemed to lack the same opportunities to participate in the missionary life of the Catholic Church. Seeing the great need and opportunity, she committed to planning short-term mission experiences. Her work grew into Commissioned By Christ (CBC). 

With the support, guidance and permission from the diocese, CBC organized its first mission trip to Bánica, Dominican Republic, in July 2010. Over the past 19 years, CBC has organized many mission trips to international locations and several one-day missions in the diocese.  

These wonderful organizations are committed to the call of Christ. Whatever our vocation or state in life, we are also commissioned to reveal our faith and spread the message of God’s Kingdom. Whether we are among those who travel the world as missionaries or those who never leave their hometowns, we all have opportunities to share the good news of salvation through Jesus. We need to be ready, willing and able to welcome our neighbors to the knowledge and compassion of Our Lord. Every person has a gift to share.

Pope Francis reminds us: “Never think that you have nothing to offer, or that nobody needs you.” Be open to Christ’s invitation: “Go and proclaim the Gospel.” May the Extraordinary Missionary Month prove to be a fruitful occasion of grace for all of us. 

Fr. Posey is diocesan director of missions and rector of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Find out more

For more info on Medical Missionaries, email info@medicalmissionaries.org.

For more info on Operation Starfish, Stella Marina or Fish4Hope, email seastar2004@gmail.com.   

For more info on Commissioned by Christ, email info@commissionedbychrist.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019