Back home in the United States, now just for a day, I returned from this most recent mission visit and found myself unpacking blessings -- memories of the events and people I met during the journey.
I've already written to you about the heroic missionaries and villagers in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and Mass at Sacred Heart parish church there, newly restored with help from the Pontifical Mission Societies. What a blessing -- and an inspiration -- to meet the many young men preparing for the priesthood and the young women in formation to be Religious Sisters on the nearby island of Nias. Both areas had been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that hit that part of Southeast Asia in December 2004. Today, the service of the Church remains as strong as it ever was in these areas, and the poor and suffering are blessed by the loving service of the priests, Sisters and catechists, and the missionaries I met.
I was personally blessed to make a stop back at the Good Shepherd Center in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The Good Shepherd Sisters operate this home for girls in northern Thailand. Just recently the Pontifical Mission Societies provided support to improve the facility and expand services. Vocational training now includes cooking and baking. I am promised a cake on my next visit, and I agreed to show the girls how to make pizza.
Many of their stories of the girls are often heartbreaking. Some have lost parents through illness or violence, while others have been rescued from human trafficking and slavery. The Good Shepherd Sisters are helping to write a new chapter in their lives, offering them the hope of our Lord to believe that all things are possible with His assistance. About 80 percent of the girls there are not Catholic. And so the Sisters bring them the "Good News" of Jesus every day. There are Bible study classes, where they see the loving hand of God throughout human history and realize that His blessings extend to them.
What a privilege to celebrate Mass for the girls at this center, and to be able to proclaim the message "spoken" so well -- in word and witness -- by the Sisters. The Lord loves them, unconditionally, without end. That knowledge is a blessing for all of us, indeed.
Yes, this journey, there were blessings all around.
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.