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Pontifical Mission Society leaders gather in Arlington, Washington

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Leaders from the Pontifical Mission Society spent a day of their national meeting bending the ear of representatives of Congress in Washington May 1. They met with representatives from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sen. Marco Rubio R-Fla.; and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; among others.

“Because we are so close to the nation’s capital and because we are celebrating this extraordinary mission month (in October), we decided to do something different, which is to turn our missionary experience into advocacy,” said Father Andrew Small, OMI, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies. “We figured out which kind of issues we would raise coming from our experience with missions around the world, so we took on the question of climate change, looking at issue of immigrants and refugees and religious freedom.”

The work of the Pontifical Mission Society puts them close to the issues for which they advocate.

“We know the people down to the level of the local pastor,” said Father Small. “We were responsible for helping build some of those churches several years ago in Sri Lanka that were recently attacked.”

This was the first time that many diocesan directors participated in advocacy. “They received background information to participate in the meetings,” said Monica Ann Yehle, director of communications and outreach for Missio and editor of Mission. “Then they received backgrounders on integral ecology and environment, persecuted Christians, and background on immigration and refugees.”

“The fact that they were willing to meet with us reinforces the idea of representative government and there was a willingness to listen as well as dialogue,” said Deacon Bryan Ott, diocesan mission director for the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla.

“It has been a good experience to share at the level of faith what the bishops are shepherding us on and sharing that with members of Congress so that change can be made for the good,” said Father Leo Perez, OMI, secretary general, Pontifical Missionary Union in the United States. “We can be supporting the vulnerable and those (who) are hurting, the immigrants and the earth. Obviously, there are political blocks that (get) in the way of good conversation, but we are trying to get around that and this process of dialogue helps us.”

Before the advocacy portion of the day, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass for the more than 60 leaders at the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria.

During his homily, Bishop Burbidge said, “It is my hope and prayer that you have found many blessings through your common prayer, discussions and in the bond that unites you in your service to the universal church. May you leave these days with renewed vigor, zeal and enthusiasm for the important work and ministry entrusted to you.”

“How blessed are we to gather on this day the church honors St. Joseph the Worker, Pope Francis says: Follow the example of St. Joseph, guardian of the church, by being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive God’s plans,” he said. “Each day, as you carry out your work for God’s glory and in service to his Church and our brothers and sisters, may you reflect on the extent to which you are following the example of St. Joseph the Worker.”

Bishop Burbidge acknowledged the advocacy day. “I understand some of you will be visiting our elected officials to be a voice of the immigrants and most vulnerable, to be a voice for those whose voice is so often dismissed or unheard,” he said. “Thank you for your courageous willingness and know that our prayers will accompany you today throughout these meetings. I respectfully encourage you, dear friends, for your good work to continue to promote a universal missionary spirit.”

In addition to advocacy, leaders from Pontifical Mission Societies had the opportunity to attend learning sessions; hear a keynote address by Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University; and create an action plan for the Extraordinary Missionary Month — October — as designated by Pope Francis.

The Very Rev. Patrick L. Posey, pastor of St. James Church in Falls Church, vicar forane and Arlington diocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said the April 30-May 2 meeting was “an opportunity for the diocesan mission leaders to get together to be re-energized. Sometimes we get tired of so many needs coming together and share thoughts on what is working and not working, so we can go back and keep the spirit alive to spread the Gospel the way the people will receive it.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019