Building Church, building faith this World Mission Sunday

Fr Donal and parishioners

Fr Donal and parishioners

St Therese of Lisieux is a patron saint of this missions.  Just days after her relics leave London, parishes around the UK and Ireland will be celebrating World Mission Sunday, this weekend.  Have you ever stopped for a moment to think of the difference that World Mission Sunday makes to the lives of people you might never have the chance to meet? In places you might never visit, parishes are trying their best to become self-sufficient, but they need that little extra help if they are to achieve their dreams. World Mission Sunday made all the difference for one small parish in Nigeria.

Fr Donal Fennessey SMA knows all about the loveliness of the African night sky. He only has to stand on his veranda and gaze upwards, momentarily forgetting that to reach his house, he drives his 30 year-old car through the twisting, rutted roads of the township. Yes, his car really is ‘ancient and venerable’ because long experience has taught him that looks do not matter: its battered and broken appearance tempts fewer thieves. Just as important, it is beyond the stage when another dent is visible on its battered bodywork.

On this particular evening, although darkness had fallen, all was not silent. Preparations for the next day’s annual fundraising bazaar were in process.  Tomorrow every parishioner would concentrate on raising money to support the parish though the coming year. They are not wealthy, but they have abundant energy, determination and ingenuity. This annual bazaar is a crucial source of parish income.

Fr Donal had built the church in Shinge, part of the Nigerian diocese of Lafia where he is the Vicar General, parish priest, prison chaplain and many other things besides. The first church and his own house were originally in otherwise vacant land, occupied by goats, birds and the herds of white, long-horned, hump-backed cattle as traditional Fulani herders drove them to market. Gradually, a growing township emerged in which the parish church was at the centre. His expanding congregation outgrew their church building. Patiently sourcing funds and the support of his people, Fr Donal constructed its much bigger replacement.

The priest wanted everybody’s gaze to be compulsively drawn towards the sanctuary.  A local sculptor created a magnificent, larger-than-life crucifix to hang behind the altar, dominating the whole church ... but the church also needed the plaster and paint that only the bazaar could fund.

From a distance of several thousand miles, we do not always see the massive efforts made by the Church in the developing world as it works towards self-sufficiency. Fr Donal’s parish bazaar would decorate the church, but Fr Donal is only one of many thousands of priests who, with a little help from outside, have been able to build a church, school, clinic and, most importantly, a Church community.

World Mission Sunday, the official annual outreach of the entire global Church towards its younger members in the developing countries, is crucial to nurturing the growth and maturation of faith in Jesus and his message of love. This practical solidarity in faith cuts across language, culture, gender and socioeconomic status in a cooperation that builds churches and nurtures faith.

In 2008, the Catholics of England and Wales contributed £101,000 towards the training of Nigerian priests, helping the Church to grow stronger in a massive country where huge distances often mean people see a priest only three or four times in the course of the year. The collection on World Mission Sunday sustains parishes just like Fr Donal’s. The parishioners will do their part, but they also need our help.

In fact, on World Mission Sunday, his parish will also contribute to the same collection, helping others who, like them, are building a strong and vibrant community. They, like you, will help to support those who are most in need. They, like you, through World Mission Sunday, will help to transform lives.

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