Just before I began this missionary journey to Asia - one that will be completed on Monday, July 14 - I recorded more "Mission Lessons," radio messages from the Pontifical Mission Societies that "teach and inspire." Well the days I spent in Sri Lanka this past week certainly provided me with many more such teachable moments. Here are just a few sample lessons.
To start there were the overwhelming encounters with joy - contagious joy, in fact. The Religious Sisters I met reflected boundless joy in their work with children in orphanages and schools, and in their service at Church-run clinics. I witnessed that joy as well in their visits to poor families. These local Religious revealed the peace and hope of our Lord just by their presence.
The next lesson was in humbling gratitude. I returned to the homes of families who had survived the tsunami. I had met these mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and children on my last visit in 2006. There were Buddhist and Catholic families. How grateful they remain to the local parish priest there for helping them after the devastation of that tsunami. The priest and his parish team provided material help, as they were able, but, above all, they comforted them in their suffering, meeting their pain with the loving heart of our Lord.
In the end, my greatest lesson - as it always is - was about love. The message of love - from those families, from children at the orphanage, from the poor I met throughout Sri Lanka - is more profound and more penetrating than what I could ever hope to share with them. In many cases, it is a love born from a deep faith in Jesus - a faith that unites us all in this "one family in mission."
As I prepare to return home - with many memories captured in photographs and stories - I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all the great "teachers" I met on this visit to the Missions.
The Pontifical Mission Societies include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Holy Childhood Association, the Society of St. Peter Apostle, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious. These Societies promote a prayerful missionary spirit among baptized Catholics and to gather a fund of support for the evangelizing and pastoral programs of more than 1,150 local churches of the Developing World.