‘The church must always be at mission’

SUMMERVILLE — Msgr. Edward Lofton, director of Propagation of the Faith for the Diocese of Charleston, is adamant about the importance of mission work in the Catholic church.

“The church must always be at mission, it’s at the very center of what we are,” he said in an interview with The Miscellany.

Msgr. Lofton, who is pastor of St. Theresa the Little Flower Church, and Helena Moniz, parish secretary, represented the Diocese of Charleston at the 2007 national meeting of the Pontifical Mission Societies of America in San Francisco April 24-26.

The meeting attracted representatives from the Vatican, including Father Patrick Byrne, international secretary-general for the Holy Childhood Association; Father Vito del Prete, international secretary-general for the Missionary Union of Clergy and Religious; and Msgr. Jan Dumon, international secretary-general for the Society of St. Peter Apostle.

Representatives from dioceses around the United States and internationally also attended.

Msgr. Lofton said the three days of meetings reinforced his enthusiasm for mission work and its importance in the daily life of the church.

“Learning about the work of missionaries worldwide gives you great understanding of how important missions are,” he said. “Every single (person) in the world has a right to the message of God. We’ve had some problems in the United States because the importance of mission has kind of gotten swallowed up with a lot of other concerns in the church.”

Msgr. Lofton said he was impressed by the enthusiasm expressed by the Vatican secretaries and by mission workers from around the world.

“At a meeting like this, you really get to see the universal church at work. You hear the stories people tell of intense mission experiences, and you see the secretaries from Rome are really normal people who love the church and love what they’re doing,” he said.

His goals after the San Francisco meeting include generating more enthusiasm for mission work within the diocese, and also encouraging more attention to collections for efforts such as the Society of St. Peter Apostle, which helps to establish and support seminaries around the world.

He said he also would like to see more attention to the Holy Childhood Association, and to work on ways to get young people interested in mission work.

“We need to instill in our kids that they have a role as missionaries of the faith, that they have a role everyday as missionaries in their own right,” he said.

Moniz said the meeting reinforced the central role of missionary work in the universal church.

“Every time you go to one of these meetings, you learn the practical side of mission work, and you really learn that Jesus Christ was our first missionary,” she said. “Mission work is our way of honoring him to all God’s people as God’s sacrifice for us.”

She recalled a story told at the gathering by Msgr. Richard Albert, national director for Pontifical Mission Societies in the Antilles.

She said Msgr. Albert recalled a poor woman in the Antilles who offered him a piece of fruit she had. He refused to take it because she had so little food herself.

“The woman told him ‘don’t deny me the opportunity to give,’” Moniz said. “When we give, we open our hearts to receive all God has for us.”

Moniz has done mission work in India and will be returning to Dharmasagar in India on July 18 for seven months. She will teach English to blind children at St. Anthony’s school.

Moniz feels that more parishes in the Diocese of Charleston are learning the importance of mission work.

“A lot of parishes are getting the message and there are some great projects going on,” she said. “People want to help and we are teaching each other how to do that. It helps that Bishop [Robert J.] Baker is supportive of missions and the work people want to do.”