To Catholics living in isolated Indian and African villages World Mission Sunday is a lifeline beyond measure, writes Sister Janet Fearns Imagine that you live in an isolated village, far from any even moderately-sized town. Even the most basic things of life are difficult. Taking your produce to and from market, along rough tracks, even on a bicycle is daunting. Women must walk and carry their heavy burdens on their heads and backs.
Imagine that the village is so isolated that most outsiders have never heard of it. As far as the government is concerned, your home might not exist. The only official health care is a mobile dispensary which comes once a month. It uses the multi-purpose church because villagers cannot afford to build anything else.
There is talk about setting up a school, but no sign that the dream will come true. It is difficult to recruit a teacher for such an isolated place. Almost nobody in this village has ever had the chance to go to school.
The catechist is the exception to the almost universal local illiteracy. His three years of secondary education are an academic achievement that far exceeds anybody else in the village. Everyone depends on him, even the priest. The parish has 45 "outstations"; the parish priest cannot travel to so many sub-parishes every week, or even every month. In fact he can only visit once or twice a year; he and the villagers are completely dependent on the local catechist.
Liaising with the priest, the trained catechist is responsible for the religious education of the entire village. He prepares couples for marriage, conducts funerals, baptises babies in danger of death, organises the prayer service each Sunday, calls people to prayer during the rest of the week, coordinates the local church council and the small Christian communities and, generally, acts as the pastoral outreach of the Church on behalf of, and in the absence of, the priest.
There are many instances where an isolated village might not have seen a priest for several years, and when one eventually arrived, he found a lively faith community ... thanks to the efforts of the catechist. Even in the main centre of a parish, where the priest is resident, the catechist is still vital to the ongoing life of the local Church.
Catechists in India and in Africa have different roles. India's ancient, more structured religious background results in social and religious behaviour unknown to Africa, which lacks transport and economic development and where formal religion is new and undeveloped. Catechists working in Indian villages are more concerned about deepening an already profound religious experience, rather than initiating and nurturing an entirely new approach to the supernatural, as in Africa.
Fr Ignaci Siluvai, the Association for the Propagation of the Faith national director for India, says: "We are really very thankful and we express our gratitude for the tremendous contribution of the Catholics of England and Wales, helping these mission catechists. We are really very grateful for their generosity."
The APF, which coordinates World Mission Sunday, is the only organisation which supports every mission diocese in the world on their journey to becoming self-sufficient.
Thus, in 2007, the APF helped 194,855 schools, 5,246 hospitals, 17,530 dispensaries, 577 leprosy centres and 80,560 social and pastoral projects to keep going for one more year through the worldwide Mission Sunday collection. Without that annual assistance, many mission dioceses could not keep going. That is how important it is to the work of the Church.
Every parish in the world celebrates World Mission Sunday. It is the Church's sign of global solidarity and outreach to the poor and needy in its younger members across the world. In 2007 the people of England and Wales gave the world's third largest per capita contribution to the work of the APF in its work for those in need.
Thanks to the collection taken on World Mission Sunday Fr Siluvai and APF, with all the Bishops of India, are able to ensure the training of catechists throughout the emerging Church in India. This is just one example of the many projects across the world which are made possible by generosity towards the APF during the course of year and through the collections on World Mission Sunday.
Thanks to APF, they can help very many villages. This year, yet again, the prayers and generosity of Catholics worldwide will help others to see Jesus.
For further information please contact Sr Janet Fearns at email@example.com or call her on 020 7821 9755. Every parish in the world will celebrate World Mission Sunday (WMS) on .19 October 2008