Mission Congress calls faithful to be ‘Missionary Disciples’ in witness, action

September 8, 2015

HOUSTON — Next month, local faithful will have a tangible opportunity to not only witness but also follow through on their baptismal call to be missionary disciples.

On Oct. 1 to 4, Houston is hosting the 2015 Mission Congress, an event which will explore the theme "Witnessing Mission: Called to be Missionary Disciples." The gathering, sponsored by the Catholic Mission Forum and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is presented by the Catholic Mission Forum (CMF), a group of Catholic organizations focusing on "mission" from a U.S. perspective. Convened and coordinated by the United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) several times a year, the purpose of CMF is "to engage in dialogue and promote collaboration among the various agencies for mission in the Church in the U.S."

"October's Mission Congress will offer its participants ways to understand what it means to live ‘mission' as a way of life in our world today," said Father Jack Nuelle, MS, executive director of USCMA and chairperson of CMF. "It's not just for those who have been ‘in the missions' for any length of time, but for all who want to live their missionary discipleship more fully."

As an effective means of achieving its purpose while opening it up to a wider audience, CMF prepares and hosts a Mission Congress every five years. The 2015 Mission Congress is the fourth nationwide gathering since the turn of the millennium, striving to witness to the faithfulness of the U.S. Church to the mission of Jesus Christ. 

"The 2015 Mission Congress offers all Archdiocesan leaders a great opportunity to explore new ways of fulfilling our call to become missionary disciples, as we are reminded by Pope Francis, while we listen to well-known speakers and participate in interesting workshops and dialogue sessions," said Hilda Ochoa, Mission Office director for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

In preparing for Mission Congress 2015, CMF has been effectively helped by the Texas Mission Council, and in particular by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Mission Office and Mission Council. Along with local participants, up to 400 participants from around the U.S., with additional mini-participation offered to catechists and religious education teachers from parishes in surrounding dioceses in Texas.

Father Nuelle said that the keynote speakers at the congress will help unfold the meaning of who we are as missionary disciples and how we can live out that discipleship more fully.

"These insights will be especially helpful for catechists, for those who teach religious education in parishes, for youth who are excited about the horizons that are open to them as Catholics searching to understand the deeper reality of their belief," he said.

In addition, there will be 15 workshops and dialogue sessions offered in English on topics such as short-term mission, global solidarity, immigration, missionary discipleship from a global South perspective, living Aparecida, how racism hinders mission, engaging parish families in mission, discernment and spiritual formation for mission, small Christian communities, and a dialogue with Bishops from US mission dioceses. 

Through interaction, dialogue, workshops, keynote presentations and informal meetings, participants will reflect on current trends in light of the past mission history, and envision the future direction of mission. Additional workshop presentations given directly in Spanish, by Bishop Alvaro Ramanzzini of Huehuetennango Guatemala (Missionary Discipleship in the Global South), Father Juan Molina, OSST (Living Aparecida: Missionary Discipleship) and Ms. Marilyn Santos (Engaging Parish Families in Mission).

The Congress weekend will also include numerous "Missionary Disciples in Action" excursions, featuring participant collaborations with Magnificat House, Unaccompanied Immigrant Children, United Against Human Trafficking, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, San Jose Clinic, Catholic Charities, Casa de Esperanza and Casa Juan Diego, the Catholic Workers' hospitality center for migrants seeking food, shelter and medical care.

"These excursions will take us to impressive places within our Archdiocese where local members of our community bear witness to the Gospel as they serve the neediest of the needy," Ochoa said. "Surely, by visiting these sites, we will be enriched and challenged to reflect on our relationship with the world around us."

"Pope Francis has been insistent in calling us to get out of our comfort zones and to encounter those in the periphery," Father Nuelle said. "Certain participants will have been doing that in one way or another. Others may be wondering whether and what is possible for them. We all wear some kind of blinders that limit our horizons. Having a first-hand experience can be eye-opening – to say nothing about what it can do for the heart."

Father Nuelle said the Saturday afternoon excursions will bring participants "face-to-face" with some of these realities and allow them to listen to the "real unedited stories of people's lives," and show them some possible solutions available.

"Hopefully participants will be inspired by these Congress activities to return to their daily lives ready to seek out those on the periphery rather than just waiting for them to come," he said. "Every mission adventure — and we sincerely hope that Mission Congress will be one of them — is meant to be life-changing, indeed an incentive to undergo the ‘metanoia' experience of Jesus' initial announcement in the Gospels."

Father Nuelle noted that the 2015 Mission Congress will be also be a time for clergy, religious and laity to share through personal prayer and reflection, with Sacred Liturgy offered each day. 

"Mission Congress 2015 will open us to a deeper relationship with God who allows us to participate in His own life," Father Nuelle said. "In the process, He will make our life more meaningful, better and more beautiful."

To register or learn more about the 2015 Mission Congress, visit missioncongress.org or contact Hilda Ochoa, Mission Office director for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, at hochoa@archgh.org or 713-652-8231.

Members of Catholic Mission Forum include: African Faith and Justice Network, Catholic Bureau of Black and Indian Missions, Catholic Church Extension Society, Catholic Volunteer Network, Catholic Relief Services, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, United States Catholic Mission Association (Convener), United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, offices of: Cultural Diversity in the Church, Evangelization and Catechesis, Catholic Home Missions, The Church in Latin America, and Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees.

Scheduled Keynotes 
■ Thursday – Sister Margaret Guider, OSF: “From the Memory of Missions to the Mission of Mercy and Joy: The Roman Catholic Missiological Imagination in Evolution”
■ Friday – Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville; “Missionary Discipleship as a Call to Encounter Different Cultures in the Spirit of Accompaniment”
■ Saturday – Father Frank DeSiano CSP: “Mission, New Evangelization, and Discipleship”
■ Sunday – Dr. Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services: “Charity in the Word and Sacrament"