Missionary discipleship — and a reset of mission - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Elvira Ramirez visiting a school in Tacopaya, Bolivia.


This year, Oct. 22 marks World Mission Sunday. For me this theme of celebrating world mission gives rise to images of people who have touched my life in far away places, and friends who are serving even now as Maryknoll missioners.

It is right to remember the importance of mission throughout the world, and my heart is filled with gratitude. I have been changed for the better because of my experiences and relationships in Tanzania and by amazing missioners who have responded to the call with their lives. For Maryknoll Lay Missioners, this is a feast day to pause and consider again the signs of the times and the invitation to authentically witness God’s love through our everyday lives.

Elvira meets a beneficiary of Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Social Justice Foundation in Tacopaya, Bolivia.

This October we are also captivated by the Synod on Synodality in Rome. The themes in discussion have everything to do with mission and the Catholic Church today and in the future. For the past 10 years, Pope Francis has communicated his vison for the missionary transformation of the church.

His vision in The Joy of the Gospel encourages us to view evangelization in a renewed way in the context of the realities of the world today. He never tires of repeating the underlying premise of this call to “missionary discipleship”: It is the encounter with God’s love and communicating it in relationship to others.

Pope Francis has used many images that have spoken to me in much the same way that Jesus’ parables spoke to the disciples of long ago. Missionary disciples should “smell like the sheep,” the church should be like a “field hospital,” and “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

The term synodality points to the goal of “walking together,” listening for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Among the Maryknoll expressions, we are keenly aware are of the winds of change and challenge. These past few days our all-Maryknoll retreat sowed seeds of hope and energy for the work that still lies before this missionary community.

Within Maryknoll Lay Missioners, we are in the midst of our own efforts to listen and discern important questions. Our focus on nonviolence has moved us to a social analysis process that begins with the communities where missioners live and serve. Missioners are listening for the voices of the marginalized to guide our motivations and activities. Our Convening Group, made up of missioners, staff and board members is engaged in a process of discussions to honor and recognize the challenges inherent in leadership structures, decision making and sustainability.

Maryknoll Lay Missioners is truly a microcosm of the looming questions in the church today. With decreased numbers of volunteers in faith-based institutions and the dissolution of many lay organizations in the church, we are in the eye of the storm and we must keep our eyes on Jesus the Lord.

I would like to close with some thoughts shared by Orbis Books Publisher Robert Ellsberg during the Maryknoll retreat on Oct. 8:

The metaphor of the journey applies not only to our experience as individual Maryknollers; it also applies to the underlying understanding of mission itself and how that is expressed. Even here, we are called to enter into a journey, prepared not just to leave behind our country of origin, to pitch our tent with a new people, but also to leave behind certain conceptions of mission, our institutions, our identities, our projects, as we walk together toward the frontier where Jesus is leading us.

This World Mission Sunday, I am encouraged by the amazing Maryknoll companions on this journey of missionary discipleship. And I am strengthened by the assurance of Jesus’ promise that he is with us always.

Robert states what many Maryknoll missioners are feeling in their bones:

It is evident that we are actually living at the dawn of a new golden age of mission. Pope Francis has truly pressed the reset button on mission consciousness, agreeing with our founders that mission is the motive and life of the church. But it is not to be identified with the work of professional missionaries. The church itself is called to be a community of missionary disciples, which means that the theme of mission must run through everything we do; all our work, all our ministries, all our communication, all reform and renewal should be measured by this priority.

We have much to reflect upon, put into action and live into together. May the Holy Spirit lead us in the spirit of synodality.

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