Father Francis Filipiec, MIC, in Cameroon. The Marians serve the world's neediest people in 18 countries. In doing so, they follow the words of Jesus: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of My brethren, you did it to Me" (Mt 25:40).
By Dan Valenti (Dec 4, 2008)
In Fr. Joseph's Special Gifts Office here at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., you'll find an ever-present jar of M&Ms. We like to say we have these candies specially printed: "M" for mercy, "M" for Mary, and "M" for missions.
For more than 300 years, the Marians have served Christ and the Church by going where the needs are greatest. The Marians' great missionary call is to express their love of God through action, especially in service to those who need help.
God's Arms and Legs
I have had a love for the missions since I was a kid. From K-8, I attended Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Pittsfield, Mass. There we learned about the service aspect of our faith. In that sense, Mt. Carmel was ahead of its time. The Venerini Sisters and Stigmatine Fathers took great care to design a curriculum that would open the children to the action component of prayer.
We learned that religion is not wishful thinking nor is it prayer magic. God intervened in human affairs, of course, but through us. If we wanted to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, we couldn't simply pray and expect bread to appear and water to flow. We had to act as God's arms and legs.
The Stigmatine Fathers has a mission in Thailand, and I grew interested in the missionary life. We couldn't travel there, but we did engage in fundraising for the Thai mission. Each year, our class would present the principal of the school the money we had collected. It might be a couple hundred dollars earned over the course of the school year.
I had more than 30 kids in my class. A couple hundred dollars doesn't sound like a lot, but to us it seemed like all the money in the world, for these were the late 50s to mid-60s. Financially, a kid measured his or her life in pennies — the two cents you collected for each soda bottle you turned in, the nickel for a pack of baseball cards, the quarter you got for your weekly allowance.
Father Santini, the legendary pastor of Mt. Carmel and the headmaster of the school, would visit the class, and we would present the money, which had been transferred into a negotiable check. He would thank us profusely, and then tell us what the money would be used for and how much of a difference it would make to real people who needed help. I felt like we were making a difference.
It seemed to me that missionaries gave doubly. First, they had forsaken worldly life for life as a religious. Second, they had left their homelands and the support of their communities, leaving behind everything, to share lives of hardship with the needy. I marveled at people like Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), physician, theologian, musician, and philosopher, who went to Africa as a medical missionary, and Dr. Tom Dooley (1927-1961), the American Catholic noted for the humanitarian work he performed while serving as a doctor in the U.S. Navy, especially in Vietnam and Laos.
It's gratifying to write for a group of men such as the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, for it again allows me to use my talents on behalf of the world's needy. The Marians work throughout the world providing spiritual and material assistance to poor and the outcast, the neglected and the marginalized.
The Congregation derives its missionary calling from the words of Jesus Christ: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of My brethren, you did it to Me" (Mt 25:40).
Chaplet of the Appetite
"The missions are important because they allow a means to provide direct spiritual and material service to the needy," says Br. Albin Milewski, MIC, longtime secretary of missions for the Marians. "In the poor and the neglected, we can see clearly the face of Christ, who tells us when we help the least of our brothers and sisters, we help Him.
Every missionary I've ever had the privilege to meet and interview has said the same thing: Ministering to the missions is about action. Wielding a hammer to frame a school is as much a prayer as "Our Father." Putting a roof in place can be a novena in nails and shingles. For the layperson, foregoing one night eating out in a restaurant and sending the $50 saved to the missions can be a chaplet of the appetite. The point is that assistance is not nebulous or ethereal. It's concrete and real.
The Marians' global ministry has many specific expressions:
• Spiritual direction and formation.
• Preparing young people for religious life.
• Assisting with food, shelter, clothing, and other material needs.
• Helping with infrastructure needs such as plumbing and access to potable water.
• Job training in skills needed by local markets.
• Pastoral counseling.
God's Mercy at Work
By directing people to God, the Marians fulfill another aspect of their apostolate — spreading the message of Divine Mercy.
"There's probably no better expression of God's mercy than to provide help to someone," says Fr. Francis Filipiec, MIC, who heads the Marians' mission in Cameroon, Africa. "When you give a paralyzed person a wheelchair or teach a job skill to an uneducated and unemployed person, it makes a tremendous difference in the quality of life. When a person's basic material needs are met and human dignity is restored, the heart is opened to see the goodness of God. That is how we 'evangelize.'"
The Marians currently serve in Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Cameroon, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Philippines, Poland, Rwanda, Slovakia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Father Leszek Czelusniak, MIC, leads the Marian mission in Rwanda, Africa. He says missionary life is profoundly connected to the counsel of Jesus. According to the Gospel of St. Mark, the last recorded words spoken by Jesus to His apostles were: "Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all mankind" (Mk 16:15). These are the words of the apostolic mission.
"I think that in these words, Jesus is telling us that we have a responsibility to others," says Fr. Les. "It's true, of course, that not everyone can leave their situations and travel overseas to serve the poor, but we don't have to do that. All of us, wherever we find ourselves in life, are surrounded by people in need. We just have to look, and we shall see. Then we resolve to make a difference, how and where we can. This is the action of the merciful heart."
Your Gift Will Do Wonders
Many Popes throughout history have recommended missionary activity for the faithful. Pope Benedict VXI says every faithful person should respond to the mission appeal and not see it simply as a task for "specialists." His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, said, "The missionary should be supported in his sacrifice by the faithful."
God and Church await our involvement in sharing the great gift of mercy. What greater work can there be? Please help support the Marians' missionary work.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" for thedivinemercy.org.