by Fr. Soney Sebastian, SVD
As SVDs we are fully committed to God’s mission to the world, but we do this in many different forms. As the director of the San Diego Office for the Missions, my ministry is to promote support for the missions within the diocese, but I see this work as perfectly aligned with our SVD charism. My mission has three faces—World Mission Sunday, which is celebrated on the last Sunday of October, the Missionary Cooperation Plan (MCP), and the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA). These three-fold ministries are unified in the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The Missions Office works as a liaison for these and other missionary activities of the diocese.
Having once been on the receiving end of mission when I was growing up in India, I am now on the sending end. But whether receiving or sending—it is all God’s mission. It is about relationships—with God and one another—something that is activated by our Baptismal call. We’re reminded that we are all one big family of God’s children because we are all missionaries by virtue of our baptism. More than any other special event of the Church, this is brought out most perfectly in World Mission Sunday.
Whether it is through our prayers, spiritual sacrifices or monetary offerings, this occasion alerts us to the fact that we are each called and enabled to reach out to someone in need.
We organize the funds collected on Mission Sunday in conjunction with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in New York, and they are sent to the Pontifical Mission Society in Rome for the mission activities of the Church throughout the world. This year, because of Covid-19 and church closures, we sent direct letters and envelopes to the parishioners of the diocese in addition to the parishes for distribution, and this has made all the difference. We are astonished at the generous and loving response of people in spite of all the difficulties.
Another major activity that is helping to build mission awareness and support is the Missionary Cooperation Plan (MCP). We invite representatives of missionary dioceses (in the USA and abroad), religious congregations, and lay organizations to visit the parishes during the summer months. They share their mission work and needs so that the people in the pews get a firsthand look at the mission life of the Church and have a meaningful chance to participate spiritually and financially. Even though the presenters had already been invited to the 2020 MCP, the event could not take place due to the pandemic. Now with the vaccine being distributed, we hope the path will be open this summer.
Our remaining major activity is the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA). It is one of four departments of the Pontifical Mission Society, and it is active in over 100 countries. The idea is to animate a missionary spirit and build an awareness of God’s loving care among the youth. It extends to other children in 110 countries across Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America.
MCA programs and presentations help our young missionaries understand the universal nature of the Catholic Church and recognize that through baptism, we are God’s missionaries in every prayer and sacrifice that we make for others. Because our normal activities like visiting schools and meeting with parish youth groups have been blocked by the pandemic this year, we have been working through diocesan teachers to do virtual meetings and presentations using Zoom and other social media platforms.
The Missions Office also works in liaison with other mission activities of the diocese, like Catholic Charities, and assists visiting missionaries. Four people work in the office: two religious sisters, one layperson and myself. We try to bring the missionary work of the Church and its needs to the forefront by every means possible, including special appeals, Mass intentions, education and immersion programs, and publicity in the diocesan newspaper. Though it is a diocesan activity, we strive to bring the missionary spirit and charism of our Society to all our activities. God’s mission is more complex than appeals for help. It involves organization and involvement to be sure, but it is also preaching, prayer and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. It is being united with Jesus and acting compassionately in all that we say and do!
Like everyone, the Missions Office has suffered the brunt of the pandemic. But despite the setbacks, our commitment to creating greater awareness of God’s mission and engendering its support remains strong—and our founder is with us all the way!
Fr. Soney Sebastian, SVD, is originally from India and entered formation for the Divine Word Missionaries in the SVD minor seminary in Changanacherry, Kerala, India. Fr. Soney professed first vows in as a Divine Word Missionary in 1987 and was ordained a priest in 1992. Since then he has served in Indore, India Central Province until 2000 and came to the USA in 2003 after completing a Master’s Degree in Social Communication from St. Patrick’s University, in Ireland. While in the USA, he served as Executive Producer and President of Wordnet Productions, priest minister, Provincial of the SVD U.S. Western Province, and is now the Director of the Office for Missions in the Diocese of San Diego.