So You Think the Catholic Church Isn’t Doing Anything in the World…

Sister Clara and a girl in India. Sister Clara’s mission work is supported by gifts from World Mission Sunday.
Sister Clara and a girl in India. Sister Clara’s mission work is supported by gifts from World Mission Sunday.
Though this was never my impression, some I’ve encountered may have been thinking that there’s not much connecting going on between the Catholic Church and the modern problems affecting our world. For me, especially in my work for the Church in the Missions, the connections are plentiful. What’s the Church doing in the world: A lot, I have to tell you.

The Catholic Church’s outreach in the developing world, especially to those who are on the margins, the powerless, the poor, the forgotten, is rooted in our inherent dignity as children of God. In light of this, the Catholic Church is perhaps the largest provider of education, medical, and social services in the world. In rural Zambia, for example, more than 60 percent of the health care services are managed by the Catholic Church there.

But those works of charity, relief, and the promotion of justice couldn’t happen if there was no Church, no catechists to communicate the faith, no places for worship, no religious Sisters or priests to administer the Sacraments.

That’s why building up the Catholic Church in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Latin America is so vitally necessary. And that wouldn’t happen without help from the Pontifical Mission Societies — that is, the Pope’s own missionary societies; his way of reaching out directly to those in greatest need in our world with the healing, saving love of Jesus.

This weekend (October 19-20), we’ll celebrate World Mission Sunday, organized by one of those Societies, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Receiving help from that Sunday will be mission territories that cover more than half the globe. On five continents, missionary priests, religious and lay leaders reach out to communities, families, and children in desperate need, bringing the light of Christ to the darkest of circumstances, lifting up the most needy and most vulnerable. Every day they live out their faith as they reach out to those most vulnerable in our society, sharing Christ’s love by offering practical, emotional, and spiritual care.

I was blessed to witness this firsthand in Ecuador where I served as a missionary — working side by side with Sisters, priests, and catechists providing basic and religious education for both children and adults, assisting in centers for victims of domestic violence and others for children found living in the streets. Again this work is done because of our faith’s belief in the dignity of all people and that all are the beloved children of God.

These days I am more “behind the scenes” than “on the ground,” blessed to continue living my missionary discipleship by helping others grow in awareness of the great good accomplished in our world by the mission Church.

And what centers the effort for us is the Pope himself. Yes, as the Pope’s mission societies, we’re about serving the poor and reaching out to the most vulnerable in his name. As Pope Francis urged us from the start of his pontificate, “Embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important…” And like he told young people at World Youth Day in July, the value of that great moment in Rio is what we do after it. Pope Francis said, “What do I expect as a consequence of the Youth Day? I expect a mess. There will be one. There will be a mess here in Rio? There will be! But I want a mess in the dioceses! I want people to go out!” And what we can do is help those who are doing great good the world over — missionaries.

Missionaries like Sister Clara and her fellow Salesian Sisters, highlighted for this World Mission Sunday. With the support of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Sister Clara and her community work tirelessly throughout Chennai, India, to rescue young girls from child trafficking and child labor — a tragic reality for some 12 million children in India and 215 children worldwide. Sister Clara and the Sisters offer these girls a safe haven at their Marialaya Children’s Home. They provide counseling, medical care, education, and spiritual formation to the girls, helping them see their worth as beloved children of God.

This is just one example of the countless good works the Catholic Church is doing in the world. It’s just one of tens of thousands of reasons I’m able to say, “So you think the Catholic Church isn’t doing anything in this world — Think again.”

Marilyn Santos is the director of mission education in the national office of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States. She has held leadership positions in youth, young adult and cultural diversity ministries in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Metuchen. Marilyn is serving as the president of La Red -- the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana. She has spoken and presented workshops at multiple national and diocesan conferences and gatherings including those sponsored by NCEA, NCCL, NFCYM, LA Religious Ed Congress, and the Mid-Atlantic Congress. She currently serves as a consultant for the USCCB Secretariat on Laity, Marriage, Family and Youth.