Nearly two hundred attended the US Catholic Mission Association in Cincinnati
By Gail Finke
The nearly two hundred men, women, and students who attended the US Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) national conference in Cincinnati last month come from different areas of the world and in serve different ways, but they all agree on one thing: Mission isn’t something you do, it’s a way of life.
“It’s pretty crazy to hear all this,” said Ryan Girgash, a junior at Xavier University, where the conference was held. “I’m born and raised in Cincinnati. To hear all these people from all over the world… their stories are eye-popping.”
Sister Victoria Oleka, a member of the Daughters of Divine Love, felt the same way. After doing mission work in Jamaica for 10 years, she moved to the United States to serve in urban New Jersey, and recently moved to her congregation’s farm in Illinois.
“It’s eye-opening for me,” she said, particularly the reaction of young white students to a tour of the Freedom Center. “If these young people can feel sorry for something that happened a long time ago, what does that say to we older ones? If they are changing their thinking, what are we doing? Are we coming up in the old mentality, or are we bringing this compassion to others?
“I am so happy to be here,” she added. “This vision here is really going to change the world if we can impart this to our communities and to the hierarchy of the Church.”
Missions to developing nations, to violent urban areas, and to the rural (largely non-Catholic) United States may seem to have little in common. But while the tasks and environments are different, missionaries say, the spirit is the same.
Before becoming involved in mission work, Xavier student and conference panelist Haley Beavers said, “I thought I could never be a missionary. I’m just me. But I realized that mission isn’t just the big protests and starting mass movements, it’s how I live my life every day.”
Fellow student and panelist Zach Moeller agreed. “I thought mission work was raking a yard or painting a building. But at Xavier I learned that it’s service and working for justice, with Christ as an example.”
Sister Tracy Kimme said that she didn’t want to come back to Cincinnati for her novitiate with the Sisters of Charity after spending three years in mission in New Mexico. “But I find that I’m on the margins right here on Eighth Street,” she said. “I see in my peers the deep desire to do good in the world.”
The 35th annual USCMA Conference included a weekend of talks, Mass and other liturgies, an awards dinner, and other activities, including the dedication and blessing of a tree on Xavier’s campus as a memorial to Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Dorothy Stang.
“There’s a great energy here for mission, a deep joy,” said Ursuline Sister Lorraine Louter, a presenter for Water With Blessings, a Middletown, KY-based organization that provides people all over the world with home filtration systems. “It’s great to get together with people like that.’
Father Tom Kirkendoll, with the Glenmary Home Missioners, said he has always worked in the rural United States and was excited to meet other missionaries. “Everybody I speak to is from somewhere new,” he said, “It’s amazing.”
At the Freedom Center, conference attendees saw the perpetual flame symbolizing freedom. Mike Gable, director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Mission Office, said the conference organizers brought the symbolism of the flame of truth, hope, faith, and freedom throughout the conference. “Slaves across the river knew that if a candle burned in the window of Reverend Rankin’s house, it was safe to cross the river,” he said. “At the commissioning ceremony we gave every participant a lantern to take the flame of faith home with them.”
The flame is already being passed on. Ricardo Nembhard, a Xavier junior whose theology class helped plan the event, said he’s now thinking about going on one of the university’s mission trips. “I think mission work would be pretty interesting,” he said. “It’s something that has always been in my mind.”