“Turned Upside Down”: Mission Congress 2011

From October 28 – 31 the annual Mission Congress was held in Albuquerque, NM. The congress was held in conjunction with the Catholic Volunteer Network’s annual conference, making it a very well-attended and rich weekend full of sharing, learning, and, “mission networking”.

In attendance were over 400 delegates from various mission organizations: priests, brothers, sisters, and lay collaborators. Among the 400 were some 22 bishops, a couple of archbishops, and the Salesians’ own Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga.
The weekend’s structure featured 3 keynote talks along with several breakout sessions. Below are some highlights:

Keynote 1: Fr. Gary Estrella, SVD – “God’s Mission, Many Faces: A Portrait of US Catholics in Mission”

  • Church needs to provide better “bridges” to those in need, utilizing the talents of the youth of our parishes
  • The gap between the rich and poor is growing wider making it more difficult for those in the church to fully live in the mission of the church as one community.
  • The challenge is to break the barriers to renew communion with one another so we may embrace the heart of mission.

Keynote 2: Sr. Janice McLaughlin, MM – “Turned Upside Down: Lessons from the Margins”

  • When we walk with those in poverty carrying their cross, we recognize our own need for conversion.
  • We must “pass the thorns to find nourishing leaves” (i.e. we must overcome hardships to reach the fruits of evangelization, enculturation, etc.)
  • We need to realized the new elements of mission, especially the growing role of laity
  • We should strengthen opportunities for short term domestic/international experiences and open doors for inter-congregational commitments in mission
  • The future mission model must focus on relationship and accompaniment of those ministering and ministering to
  • We must be with the people and give them a faith to stand on
  • We are called to a new evangelization in North America and Europe
  • Catholic Social Teaching needs to be a tool to help propel the needs of our mission

Keynote 3: Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga – “Continental Mission in Light of Aparecida”

  • Being Christian begins with an encounter with a person
  • We need a Catholic faith that is awake and fun
  • We cannot stay in church and hope people come. We must go out to the people!
  • We cannot be ashamed. As Catholics, we have an incredible treasure to share with others!
  • It is not a mission of talking “to” the people, but talking “with” them.
  • Dialogue is key in the evangelization. This dialogue must include all: atheists, non-Christians, etc.
  • The one who dialogues the best is the one who has clarity of his/her own beliefs
  • We must renew our ways of educating those forming and those in formation
  • The laity must be included every step of the way…they must be an active part of the pastoral plan.
  • We need “speech therapists” to help us talk in languages that the parishioners know! Talk with them, not “to” them.

We must realize that it’s time to turn ourselves upside down and re-invigorate the mission – not only as thought of in the past as foreign lands or to the un-churched, but also in our own country among families, communities and students that we serve.  Over the weekend, or more specifically, Friday morning, it was very clear for us that, not only is the mission overseas, but also right here in every one of us.

These days of formation and fellowship with other program directors, priests and brothers, women religious and bishops, representing communities from around the country and around the world, have been all that the congress suggested it would be – a process of Discernment of the U.S. mission, a time for Discovering and bringing forth various aspects of our mission, Invigorating the Identity and leadership of the mission, as well as Celebrating the success and creativity of the U.S. mission.