As hurricanes, disasters destroy worldwide, hope springs eternal

October 10, 2017

These profound words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, uplift our spirits as we face the powerful destruction of hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. For some, it is the direct loss of life, property and power. For others, it is fear and loss for our loved ones.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and Maria caused catastrophic destruction in Texas, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands. The havoc unleashed by nature’s storms in the last few weeks has exceeded historical records. Suffering abounds.

Equally powerful, however, has been the outpouring of compassion in response. Untold numbers have been working tirelessly to save lives and assist victims. Financial contributions for rescue and relief have been flooding in. People are truly following Christ’s call to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless.

Our functioning power and communication systems keep us constantly updated on these unfolding events. However, off the headline news are stories of horrific suffering that do not make it to our attention: Starvation in Somalia, bloodshed in Sudan. These, too, are our brothers and sisters in need. These, too, are human disasters.

Our Catholic Church, universal in nature, has a highly organized system for caring for its members in need — even for those who are not in the limelight. It is called “World Mission Sunday.”

At the second-to-last Sunday in October of each year, Catholics around the world gather to pray at Mass to recommit to our missionary vocation and offer contributions for the support of the suffering Church in all continents through the Pontifical Mission Societies. This year, we are invited again to join in this effort at our parishes on Oct. 22.

To enhance this project, posters and materials are being distributed to parishes, schools and other Archdiocesan leaders, featuring a photo of our Chief Missionary, Pope Francis. This restores an old tradition to remind Catholics that we are all part of the Pope’s worldwide “Missionary Corps” through our prayer and financial support. Also included on the poster is a code to bring the missionary effort into today’s new communication capabilities. The code provides a digital gateway to participate in a more direct connection with the Pope’s mission messages.

This Mission Sunday, we have further inspiration from the newly beatified Blessed Father Stanley Rother. Native of Okarche, Oklahoma, Father Rother studied and worked in Texas en route to his service as a missionary to the native people in Guatemala. During the violent times of the 1980s, when hundreds of Catholic priests, Religious Sisters and lay catechists were killed for their work with the poor, Father Rother was invited to return to the U.S.

After a brief visit with his family, he announced, “The shepherd does not flee from his flock at the sign of danger.” He returned to his people for the celebration of the Easter Week. Instead, he lived out his own Stations of the Cross, being attacked and killed by armed gunmen in his rectory. Pope Francis officially declared him a “martyr for the faith.”

On Sept. 23, in a ceremony in Oklahoma City attended by thousands, the title “Blessed” was bestowed on this gentle shepherd. This is the last step before attaining an official declaration of sainthood. Blessed Father Rother is on his way to being the first U.S. male named a saint by the Catholic Church. On this Mission Sunday, we look to him for inspiration and encouragement in our own missionary journey to become more like Christ, offering our lives to follow the will of God with compassion and fidelity.

By recognizing the value of sacrificial missionary life, our Chief Missionary Pope Francis continues to challenge us to sainthood. At his weekly audiences, he sustains us with messages of hope. His inspirational Sept. 20 proclamation announced, “Never think that the struggle you engage in here on earth is completely useless. Ruin does not await us at the end of life... Everything is born to flourish in an eternal spring.”

Hilda Ochoa is the director of the Office of Missions.