It is certainly no secret that much of the humanitarian aid and relief work all around the globe flows from distinctly Christian institutions — not a small amount of which are Catholic. Not surprisingly, the impact these organizations have extends to nations where Christians are in the minority.
For example, only 2% of the population of India identifies as Christian yet the Catholic Church has started a disproportionate number of hospitals and health clinics in that country. Our Missionhurst priests have been working in Mongolia for over 25 years, a country where today only 2.1% identify as Christian.
India and Mongolia are not anomalies. These disparities beg for a deeper analysis. Are Christian missionaries — including many Catholic priests working as such — doing any good or can secular humanitarianism fill the void?
The Press Has Something [Bleak] To Say
In an age of round-the-clock broadcasts where good news is scarce and inspirational stories the exception to the norm, the positive developments resulting from the work of missionary priests rarely receive any airtime. Secular press outlets display little interest in the furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — indeed they sometimes adamantly oppose it — but when the implications of the Gospel notably change conditions for a desperate and suffering humanity, some in the mass media take notice.
The good work these Christian organizations and priests do is such a significant factor in the conversation about global economic development that just last year the The Guardian (UK) was impelled to ask for responses to the following question:
“Is there a place for religious NGO's in the 21st century?”
Such a question, of course, presupposes that religion itself is outdated, and implies that it indeed does not belong in the 21st century. But even so, the majority of those who responded, including some who were not Christian, said yes to that question.
The Perseverance of the Faithful...and Everyone Else?
All over the world missionary priests are serving tirelessly and faithfully in some of the most poverty-stricken societies on the planet. Fueled by a distinctly missionary calling, they not only proclaim the good news of Jesus but also labor diligently to improve the socio-economic landscape and the job is often a thankless one. As they take their ordination vows, these men prostrate themselves as if on a cross, the ultimate symbol of obedience and sacrifice.
And what about their work among the poorest people of the world? With the proliferation of secular humanitarian organizations — too many to count now as their numbers rise every year — are priests still effective missionaries, and if so, why do we know so little about their humanitarian work?
The Good News Makes All the Difference
The particular calling of a missionary priest clearly differs from that of other international aid workers because his office is charged with the responsibility for the proclamation of the Gospel, and every good work flows from that good news. When the Gospel flourishes, vibrant communities are built, youth are educated, lay leaders are empowered, and social welfare agencies and hospitals are established.
Such work and such institutions constitute the outworking of Christ's teachings and they very much speak for themselves. The priests who are often at the core of such works seldom boast of the accomplishments. They would rather that the witness of the works themselves be the herald of Good News.
Although it could be argued that too few priests have connected these things with the Gospel's message of salvation in a compelling narrative, the culprit for the lack of widespread dissemination of “good news” is also a lack of media coverage.
Be that as it may, such stories of the good that is happening are bound to emerge someday because God is still calling priests to the mission field and his Kingdom has not stopped advancing. Today, such priests are still being commissioned and, in keeping with their long history of serving as conduits of God’s mercy in distressed regions of the world, they remain faithful despite harrowing circumstances.
We Will Not Forsake Them: Continuing Service, Compassion, and Fidelity
Our Missionhurst order is blessed to have nearly a thousand priests and brothers from the United States, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, who are serving and caring for God’s poorest and most neglected people around the world. Many have died in the service of their missions; 40 have been martyred.
Missionhurst missionaries give witness to the universal love of God by living among the people, sharing in their privations, and participating in the day-to-day effort needed to achieve life-long spiritual and material changes.
Just this past February, Pope Francis met with 700 missionary priests to encourage them in their selfless vocations. One priest who attended the event emphasized how Pope Francis reminded the priests that their mission work was also a call to remind the people of God that “nothing — absolutely nothing — that they have done can separate them from the love of Christ. All they need to do is to rise up and go to their Father (cf. Luke 15:18).”
Perhaps that innate hunger for a Father's forgiving love, a desire every prodigal knows all too well, provides a bit of insight as to why the masses still speak favorably of Christian relief organizations.
The ongoing, behind-the-scenes work of missionary priests is a phenomenon for which no secular ideology offers an explanation.
It turns out the Gospel's call to mercy has a staying and transformative power that causes even those who do not believe to recognize its goodness. This is still gloriously true in the 21st century!
Will you help pray for our missionary priests who are serving the lost and forgotten around the world? Become a Missionhurst Prayer Partner today and pray for our priests - we’ll send you updates each month with
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