I believe in the Catholic Church. I believe it what it means to be truly “catholic”. In fact, as I say every week in Mass, I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I don’t think I ever really understood what it meant for the Church to be one until I went on foreign mission.
The first time I went to Mass in another country was on mission in Ghana last summer. The liturgy was beautifully influenced by the culture of the Ghanaian people. Far from a pipe organ and a 70-year-old cantor, the Mass was celebrated with drums, horns, and dozens of voices in the choir. The congregation stretched out the collection for at least twenty minutes by dancing and singing praise to God! What we see as a collection, they see as an offering to God. We have a lot to learn. Despite the differences, and the added challenge that half the Mass was in the native language Twi, the Mass was EXACTLY the same – the same readings, the same Gospel,the same responses and, most importantly, the same Jesus was present! No matter where I go, what the music sounds like, or what language is spoken I can fully participate in the Mass because I know the miracle of the Eucharist that happens every Mass.
The first week in December found the Covecrest missionaries on mission in Haiti, and I again experienced a new side of the universal Church. It was a Sunday morning and the village had gathered under a US AID tarp (from the earthquake in January 2010) held up by branches and string. Women filed into rows of plastic patio chairs wearing white dresses. The altar was prepared: a card table covered in white linen and a crucifix. We sang, read the Sunday readings for the third week of Advent and lifted up our intentions as a community. We prayed the “Papa Nou” that we call the “Our Father.” And then we left.
It was great but something was missing. The greatest gift was missing. There was no Eucharist in this village. There is no Eucharist because there is no priest in Dandann. For the first time in my life, I realized that thousands of Catholics in the poorest country in this hemisphere are deprived of the Sacraments just as much as they are of clean water, nutritious food and basic medicines.
Do I want to build wells and bring food to those in Haiti? Of course. But Jesus is the one who said we don’t live by bread alone. John Paul II says in Mission of the Redeemer, “the poor are hungry for God, not just bread and freedom.” Beyond the abundance of physical needs, the greatest plight of the Haitian people that I saw was a spiritual hunger for the Sacraments.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the unity, the very one-ness, of the Church is shown in visible bonds of communion. These include the common celebration of the liturgy and the Sacraments, but with no priests in Dandann, there are no Sacraments. I’d like to ask you to pray about the following threes challenges to build these visible bonds of communion with our brothers and sisters in Haiti:
1. Go to Mass. Go to reconciliation. Take advantage of the Sacraments which are so readily available to us. In doing so, pray for those who don’t have those opportunities.
2. Pray for more vocations to the holy priesthood.
3. Pray and ask your pastor if your parish is willing to sponsor a sister parish in Haiti. Dandann and Duverger, the two villages we visited, currently need $50,000 to complete their chapel and another $50,000 to build a home for a priest to live and work within the villages.
I believe in the one Church and now God has opened my eyes how to pray for that unity in a whole new way.