SUMMERVILLE — Msgr. Edward L. Lofton has witnessed first-hand how monies raised for the Pontifical Mission Society can help people worldwide.
He and others from St. Theresa the Little Flower Church, where he is pastor, have seen the extreme poverty of places like Fiji and India. They have seen how grateful the people are for even the smallest gestures.
On a recent trip to the Fiji islands, the people welcomed Msgr. Lofton with an elaborate ceremony and thanked him for bringing Christ to their village. He said it gave him chills and reinforced why he became a priest: to spread God’s word and help others.
That is why it is so important for Catholics to honor World Mission Sunday Oct. 18, he said.
World Mission Sunday, which is organized by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, is a day set aside for Catholics worldwide to recommit to the church’s missionary activity.
“It’s a way for every Catholic to be a missionary — without the travel,” said Msgr. Lofton, who is the director of the Diocese of Charleston’s office for propagation of the faith.
Last year, the diocese raised about $163,000 through World Mission Sunday, the mission co-op program and special contributions, he said. They are a little worried about the collection this year because of the economy, but are hopeful.
After all, without missionary work, Catholicism would not even have a toehold in some places around the globe, Msgr. Lofton said.
As an example, he told the historical tale of how Catholicism came to be favored long ago by island inhabitants, instead of a Protestant religion that had also sent missionaries.
Fierce warriors from the neighboring islands of Tonga planned to invade the islands of Fiji. A war party was said to be on the way, crossing through the waters of the South Pacific Ocean.
A priest told the Fijians that if they placed a cross on a high hill and had faith in God, they would be saved. So they built a cross, and a hurricane destroyed the war party. Today, a Catholic church sits on top of that same hill as a gesture of appreciation, Msgr. Lofton said.
Funds from World Mission Sunday are sent to the Pontifical Mission Society and are distributed worldwide. In Fiji, those funds are still used to build churches, with one almost completed, another being constructed, and a third on the drawing board, the monsignor said. He added that Fijians have water and plenty of natural food, so for them, churches are a priority.
“They want a church over all else,” he said. “Before they want a clinic or a hospital, they want a church. It’s very important to them. The church becomes like the community center.”
Other areas have other needs. In India, Father Thomasaiah “Thomas” Reddimasu and Helena Moniz are working to establish a feeding program. Father Reddimasu served in the Diocese of Charleston from 2001-2006 before returning to his native country to serve as pastor of St. Anthony Church, the largest parish in his diocese. Moniz is mission coordinator of the propagation of the faith office.
Donations are also used to build schools, and Msgr. Lofton said they hope to set up Natural Family Planning in areas that don’t already have it.