By Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III
Bishop of Biloxi
“One cannot truly encounter the risen Jesus without being set on fire with enthusiasm to tell everyone about him. Therefore, the primary and principal resource of the mission are those persons who have come to know the risen Christ in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, who carry his fire in their heart and his light in their gaze. They can bear witness to the life that never dies, even in the most difficult of situations and in the darkest of moments.” (Pope Francis’s 2023 World Mission Sunday Address)
Last Sunday, the Universal Church celebrated World Mission Sunday. The theme chosen by Pope Francis for this year was: “Hearts on fire, feet on the move”, inspired by the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35).
Jesus established the Catholic Church to evangelize, and He gives us His Great Commission in Matthew’s gospel to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them, to teach all He commands us, and to trust that He is with us always. To evangelize is to welcome people into a personal relationship with God that will transform them completely inside and out.
Since 1969, the Catholic Church in Mississippi has sponsored a mission in Saltillo, Mexico, the capital city of Coahuila, located in the northeastern part of the country between Monterrey and Torreon. Father Patrick Quinn, a native of Ireland, was the first priest from the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, which was split into the Dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi in 1977, having served at Perpetuo Socorro Mission (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) from 1969 to his sudden death in 1997.
Through the years many good, dedicated priests have ministered in the missions, including Father Louis Lohan, Father Paddy Mockler, Monsignor Michael Flannery and Monsignor Michael Thornton, who died this past July. It was Monsignor Thornton who volunteered to go to Mexico after the death of Father Quinn, where he helped to establish the new mission at San Miguel (St. Michael).
This year, I had the opportunity to travel to Saltillo accompanied by Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Bishop of Jackson, Monsignor Flannery, Juliana Skelton, and Terry Dickson to celebrate San Miguel’s 25th Anniversary. It was a special time for me because, as I have related in the past, my very first assignment as a newly-ordained priest was as parochial vicar to the mission Arteaga, Mexico, which is about 14 miles from Saltillo. In fact, I was occasionally called upon to minister in the Saltillo mission, so I was very familiar with the good works being performed by Father Quinn in conjunction with the faithful of Mississippi.
In fact, it always amazes me that, whenever I travel to the mission in Saltillo, I inevitably encounter someone who I remember or vice-versa from my time in Arteaga. This most recent visit was no exception.
The mission is currently staffed by Father David Martinez and Father Antonio Medel, who organized the week’s itinerary, which consisted of visits to rural villages where we would concelebrate Mass and visit with the people. I concelebrated two Masses of Christian Burial and preached at both. Each evening, we returned to Saltillo to celebrate Mass at San Miguel. On our next to last evening, we concelebrated Mass with Bishop Raul Vera, Bishop-Emeritus of Saltillo, and then we were treated to a grand fiesta on the grounds of San Miguel.
On our final day in Saltillo, the bishop of Saltillo, Hilario González García, was with us for a day-long celebration. The day began a colorful procession through the streets of Saltillo comprised of parishioners from the eight city churches and 24 ranchos. We also concelebrated three Masses, including one where Bishop González García, Bishop Kopacz, and I conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation to 25 young people. There were standing-room only crowds at each of the Masses and, by the time we concelebrated the third Mass, people were spilling out of the doors into the courtyard. Our final night was capped off by another huge fiesta. It was truly a wonderful celebration.
Everywhere we went, we experienced a great outpouring of love and gratitude. The people of Saltillo are so grateful to the people of Mississippi for our generous support of the missions over the past 54 years. Since the establishment of the missions, thousands of adults and youth have traveled to Saltillo to serve and to evangelize. You have epitomized what it means to have “hearts on fire, feet on the move.”
Unfortunately, due to safety issues, we have not been able to sponsor a Diocesan trip in quite some time. My hope is that we can one day resume these mission trips because I know the experience is truly a source of deep spiritual fulfillment in serving others and living out the faith through acts of charity and love.
And anyone who has traveled to Saltillo as a missionary can tell you that the people minister to you just as much as, if not more than, you minister to them through their deep faith and devotion and their loving warmth and hospitality.
As we celebrate World Mission Sunday and continue our celebration of the Eucharistic Revival, we are reminded by the words of Pope Benedict that the Eucharist emboldens us to leave the confines of the Church and go to the peripheries. He wrote, “We cannot keep to ourselves the love we celebrate in the Sacrament [of the Eucharist]. By its very nature, it asks to be communicated to everyone. What the world needs is the love of God, to encounter Christ and believe in him. For this reason the Eucharist is not only the source and summit of the life of the Church; it is also the source and summit of her mission: ‘An authentically Eucharistic Church is a missionary Church’” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 84).
The Word of God and the Eucharist serve as food for the journey as our hearts are set afire and our feet set on the way, as we respond to the Great Commission.
NOTE: THERE WILL BE A RECAP OF BISHOP KIHNEMAN’S VISIT TO SALTILLO, MEXICO IN THE OCTOBER 27 EDITION OF THE GULF PINE CATHOLIC.