The felicitous title of our quarterly newsletter, “Franciscan World Care”, says it all. For twenty years now we have prepared, assigned and supported lay women and men, married and single, to spend three or more years of their lives caring for needy people all over the world – and then return home to share their experiences.
by Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM
The original vision, articulated by the founder of Franciscan Mission Service, Father Anselm Moons, continues to guide us today. Anselm, a Dutch friar, saw the need for a North American lay mission program to raise awareness about the impoverished world beyond our shores.
Since 1990 some 110 lay missioners have served among the extremely poor in 19 different countries. The majority of them have returned to take up work in the United States which allows them to engage in mission to the so-called developed world.
One can imagine the sort of dramatic and varied experiences our missioners have lived through during the course of these twenty years. For example, one went overseas with a strong background in animal husbandry, but answered the need to start a cooperative in Central America for women who lacked the means to earn a fair price for their homemade handicrafts. Another became the unofficial chaplain for incarcerated men in an overcrowded Bolivian jail; still another was surrogate parent for orphaned African children dying of HIV/AIDS.
Our people have served as an administrator in a university for indigenous men and women, as the sole health care provider in a rural town, as a radio talk show host, as a hospital CEO – the list goes on and on.The work of our missioners reflects not only the original vision of Fr. Moons, but the inspiration for that vision in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The missionary charism of this saint can be summed up neatly in a phrase ascribed to him: “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words”.
Our people do not go overseas to proselytize; rather, we ask our missioners to “walk gently and respectfully” with the people to whom they are sent. If, as often happens, in the course of that experience people ask why these North American lay women and men have chosen to leave home, family, friends and culture to live in some of the poorest areas of the world, our missioners then can speak frankly about the inspiration, the call, the conviction they believe to have received from God.
How does one assess the impact of this story on the scores of FMS missioners who have served around the world in these two decades, on their/our spiritual and material supporters, on us who have tried to stand behind them, and on the society and church to which they have returned? Ultimately, the full impact of the FMS story will have to wait until the next life when “all will be revealed”. For now, we remember the thrilling words of St. Paul, who wrote long ago of a similar divinely-inspired effort:
“I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes… My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognize what is best.” (St. Paul’s Letter to the Christians of Philippi, 1:6,9)