For the month of October, Pope Francis called upon the Church throughout the world to pray “that the breath of the Holy Spirit engender a new missionary ‘spring’ in the Church.” Middle school students in Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Washington are working to do just that. 

More than 125 students from across the Archdiocese of Washington gathered on Oct. 1 at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., for the 2019 Mission Day where they heard testimonies from missionaries and participated in workshops which taught them more about the lives of missionary saints and the work that missionaries do around the world today. 

Daniella Cabatbat, a seventh grader at St. Mary's School of Piscataway in Clinton, Maryland, said that she learned about the depth of impact that missionaries can have on others.

She said she understood in a new way “just how worth it (being a missionary) can be to help other people in need,” Cabatbat said.

Cabatbat was one of five students selected from the middle school at St. Mary’s School of Piscataway to attend Mission Day, which included students from about 25 area Catholic schools. 

Her schoolmate, eighth grader Aurora Dolojan, said she learned how, “bringing Catholicism to Africa has such a big impact on their communities.” 

As they headed back to their own schools the following day, Dolojan said she would share what she learned with her classmates, namely the impact that Christian missionaries have in helping people experiencing poverty around the world.  

Students participate in a workshop about missionary saints and the countries they originated from. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj) 

Father Raymond Nwabueze, a Dominican from Nigeria who has lived in the Washington area for the past five years while ministering to a local children’s hospital, shared his testimony of life as a missionary in Nigeria with the students. Father Nwabueze said  Catholics make up about 55 percent of the Christian population in Nigeria, and that the area has a history of Dominican evangelization in Nigeria since 1951.

“They did a very astonishing job, converting people who were Muslim...and as a result founded dioceses, churches and schools, invited the Dominican nuns...and the mission to a large extent, was very, very successful,” Father Nwabueze said. 

Father Nwabueze also acknowledged the difficult parts of being a missionary, such as facing religious persecution. 

“We need prayers, we need support, we need encouragement, and we need people to volunteer,” he said. “Yes, it is lovely (being a missionary), it is enjoyable, also there is a part that has a little bit of pain...but the grace of God when you bring out your heart and you want to work and you want to give everything in the mission, it is that grace of God (that) helps us in what we accomplish,” he said. 

He also told students that the opportunity for them to attend such an event as Mission Day was a “blessing” for them. 

“Count this day as a huge thing of blessing in your life, to be exposed to the meaning of missions and what missionaries go through in propagating the Gospel,” Father Nwabueze said. 

Father Raymond Nwabueze, a Dominican priest from Nigeria, shares with students his life as a missionary and his current service as a chaplain at a local children's hospital. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj) 

Another local missionary, Sister Francis Gabriel, a Missionary of Charity, explained to the students the fourth vow that Missionaries of Charity take in addition the the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The fourth vow, she said, is “a wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.” Her work in Washington is to serve the sick and dying poor who have no one else to care for them, she said. 

“When we give food to the hungry, we don’t just give them food, people are more hungry,..they want human dignity,” the Missionary of Charity sister said. “When we give them something to drink, people are very thirsty for something deeper, for God. When we give them clothing, they are crying out ‘give me back my dignity’.” 

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory celebrated a Mass at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine during the Mission Day for students. The day corresponded with the memorial feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, the French Carmelite nun who is the patron saint of missions and missionaries. 

The archbishop told the students about St. Therese and her own desire to be a missionary, which, because of her poor health, she was unable to do. 

“She became a missionary in a model most of us will have to be missionaries, she prayed for the missionaries,” Archbishop Gregory said. “We’re celebrating our intention to be missionaries for prayer and for outreach.” 

Addie Breitenbach, a student at Holy Redeemer School in College Park, Maryland, prays at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington at a Mass during Mission Day 2019. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)