WASHINGTON — As the 29th class of Franciscan missioners was recognized during the Commissioning Mass held last month at the Franciscan Monastery, they knew the end of their formation program was the start of a greater journey.
During the Nov. 17 Mass, Valerie Ellis, Hady Mendez, and Nate and Mary Mortenson of the Franciscan Mission Service each read personal mission statements they had written for the occasion, vowing to love and serve God, the Bolivian people, and each other in community. They were then presented with Tau crosses by their spiritual directors: St. Camillus Parish member Joan Conway and two friars: Anthony LoGalbo, OFM, and John Ullrich, OFM, of Holy Name College.
The event was very joyful, and missioners commented on the similarities between their commissioning and the promises of wedding vows, according to a post on the FMS blog.
“The Commissioning Mass marks the end of the missioners’ formation training, but it really is a ‘sending-forth,’” said Kim Smolik, FMS executive director. “The Mass is also a recognition of how much time and work the missioners have invested in their training.”
Approximately 50 people attended last month’s special Mass, including former domestic volunteers, board members, and formation instructors, as well as Casa San Salvador members, who have been living in community with the missioners-in-training. A reception was held at Casa San Salvador following the Mass. The missioners, staff and spiritual directors also attended a private sending Mass there the following day.
“Franciscan missioners follow in St. Francis’ footsteps by living simply as brothers and sisters to those in poverty,” said John, who celebrated the Mass. “Missioners help delineate Franciscan identity… reinforcing faith in the midst of the world they live in.”
The 13-week formation program consisted of studying subjects such as scripture, Franciscan spirituality and cultural sensitivity, as well as volunteering in direct ministry and participating in spiritual direction. The missioners are preparing for a minimum of two years service in Bolivia.
As the Church anticipates the birth of Christ, FMS has been publishing an Advent reflection series on its blog. Several friars have written contributions, including Tony, John, and Joseph Nangle, OFM. Mendez wrote a post about the affirming dignity she received from John, shown in photo above, during her formation.
“I go on mission feeling affirmed that, yes, I can make a difference because Father John said so, but also knowing that sometimes God puts people in your life to open your eyes and teach you a valuable lesson,” she said. “Spending time with Father John has taught me that you don’t have to stop living because life has handed you cancer or put some other obstacle in your way. He hasn’t. He’s so alive and filled with love. And he’s changing lives every day by being genuinely present to the people he encounters. I look at him and see hope. Here’s a man who loves and trusts God.”
One of the blog’s authors, Kate Ackert, a sophomore at Siena College, wrote about lessons she learned from Russel Murray, OFM, director of the Franciscan Center there, during the two-week mission trip they took this summer.
“From Fr. Russel, I learned that no matter what happens to me, I can turn a bad situation into a positive outcome, and I learned that I have control over my own attitude,” Ackert wrote. “If you love life, life will love you back.”
The Franciscan Mission Service offers short-term mission and global awareness trips for those unable to commit to becoming long-term missioners. The organization is currently holding open enrollment for a May 2 to 12 trip to Bolivia, where participants will visit current missioners and their local partners in the city of Cochabamba, where HNP alumnus Ignatius Harding, OFM, is stationed, and the rural college of Carmen Papa in the Andes Mountains.
Participants are asked to register and make a deposit by Jan. 15, 2014. A sample itinerary and details about the trip are available online.
Those interested in serving as a domestic volunteer are invited to apply to become a development associate in FMS’s Washington office. A successful applicant will manage the donor database, process and acknowledge donations, write grants, and process invoices, among other responsibilities.
Volunteers will live with other young adults serving in Catholic programs, and receive a monthly stipend and health insurance. More information is available on the organization’s website.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.