‘Decenter and transcend’ - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Minh Nguyen teaches a sign language class to a deaf student and his classmates in Tacopaya, Bolivia.

We might wonder: And now what must I do? What could be my place in the future, and what can I do to make it possible? Two words come to mind: “decenter” and “transcend.”
See where you are centered and decenter yourself. The task is to open doors and windows, and move out beyond.
—Pope Francis

How do these inspiring words from Pope Francis in the epilogue of his 2020 book Let Us Dream apply to Maryknoll Lay Missioners? Working in nine different countries around the world, Maryknoll lay missioners continue to embody the invitation to decenter and transcend as they respond to the many situations of poverty, despair, isolation and violence.

Our missioners’ summer newsletters read like letters from the missionary disciples that they are. They help us, as Pope Francis writes in that same epilogue, “to look at the eyes, faces, hands and needs of those around us and in this way find, too, our own faces, our own hands full of possibilities.” I encourage the reader to see through their stories the hope, the courage and the strength to act, to decenter and transcend.

We can consider the many parts that work together to create this presence, this activity in the world as one single act. At Maryknoll Lay Missioners, we regularly highlight the extraordinary lives of ordinary people who are changing the world, one encounter at a time.

Meeting with donors and supporters in southern and northern California, Minnesota and in the Northeast, my team and I have been recounting the stories that show a path to a better world. Our staff works tirelessly to support the mission and our missioners, even in the mundane details of budget meetings and organizing data digitally for the long-term work of this community of believers.

Each church talk given this summer by volunteers, current and returned missioners or staff carries the message that we can indeed transcend the world of the impossible by responding to human dignity, the cry of creation and to the cry of the poor.

On my plane trip back from one of these church weekends, I met a man who by all appearances seemed rather wealthy. He told me that he was traveling two to three times per year to “keep it fresh.” It was clear to me that what he was really saying was, “I am searching for something more.”

I told him about the lay missioners who serve deaf children in Cambodia and Bolivia, and about the missioners who live in Haiti and South Sudan. He listened with amazement, and I hoped that he was decentered long enough to listen to the message with his heart.

I think of the three new Maryknoll lay missioner candidates who are preparing to begin their orientation as our Class of 2023: Theresa, Sarah and TT. They will begin some training via Zoom as early as July and then come to El Paso, Texas, in October for their eight-week preparation before heading to Kenya, El Salvador and Cambodia respectively.

The laborers may be few, but those who respond will not be disappointed and they shall be strengthened on their journey by the community of Maryknoll, who live to serve and build the reign of God in our midst every day.

Summer months can tend to become busy — even with activities that are supposed to relax us. Let us not lose sight of the real “reasons for our hope.” Maryknoll lay missioners have been put off center by the suffering and struggles of the people they serve, but we have been given great gifts of faith, hope and love to be put into action in the places of each one’s everyday life.

As Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium reminds us, “Let us be permanently in a state of mission.”

Elvira Ramirez
Elvira Ramirez is Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ executive director.