Saturday, November 2, 2013

Father Vittorio Scomparin - Missionary Families from Neocatechumal Way In the Archdiocese of Vancouver: "Pope...I thank you for the immense good that you are doing for the whole Church"


Few parents dream of quitting their jobs, leaving their homes, packing up their children, and flying to foreign countries to evangelize. For four families, Vancouver is their "foreign country."

"I feel it was a vocation," said Carmel Deasy, now a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish. Originally from Ireland, she and her husband, Donal, attended a retreat with other families in the Neocatechumenal Way and offered themselves as lay missionaries. They spent the next 15 years in Taiwan before coming to Vancouver.

"We went in the spirit of the Gospel," Carmel said, with few possessions and little idea of what they would do when they arrived in 1995.

Families in mission live as they did at home: with jobs, a home, etc., but with the added task of helping the local bishop or priest with whatever he has invited them to do. Currently more than 700 families are participating in worldwide mission work as part of the Neocatechumenal Way.

For the Deasys, this was leading faith formation and catechesis in a Taipei parish.

"Doing God's will is simple, but not easy," Carmel said. It took the Deasy family almost three years to settle in. The new language and culture posed significant challenges, and their seven children were the only foreigners in Chinese schools.

She started seeing the effects of her work when her children's schoolmates became attracted to the Neocatechumenal community. "Now about eight or 10 of their friends with no other contact with the Church are waiting for baptism," she said.

"Lord knows who is going to be touched by your witness as a Catholic."

Jim and Mary Johnson spent 10 years on a similar mission in a nearby Asian country. Also from Ireland, the couple and their children flew to Hong Kong after volunteering to evangelize in that diocese.

"We left everything just to be the presence of Jesus among the people," Jim said. "It's the life of Christianity in action."

A family in mission typically stays in one place as long or short as there is need. After 10 years in Hong Kong, the Johnsons were invited to Vancouver, at the same time as the Deasys.

Their new task? "Evangelization of Chinese immigrants in Richmond," Carmel explained. Having lived in Asia for so long, both families were familiar with the culture and language of the growing immigrant community when they arrived in 2000.

The Johnsons are creating a series of talks for lapsed and doubting Catholics with Father Paul Chu, pastor of Canadian Martyrs Parish. Both families are also involved in the Neocatechumenal Way communities at Blessed Sacrament Parish and Guardian Angels Parish in Vancouver.

"We're here as long as God wants," Jim noted.

Lay missionary Ramona Belanger, a mother of 12, finds her biggest motivation is gratitude to God.

"The reason to do this was to be grateful to the Lord, to say thank-you to Him," she said. Born in Rome, Belanger was an avid student and earned a master's degree in languages. But school "didn't give life," she said.

Ramona immigrated to Quebec after she married. She and her husband became active in the Neocatechumenal Way, and found money and possessions did not satisfy their souls. They decided to offer themselves as lay missionaries.

The Belangers offered to go for nine or 10 consecutive years before Father Vittorio Scomparin presented a need for French-speaking missionaries on Canada's west coast. They sold everything to come here on mission in 2002.

"I do this out of love for Jesus Christ," Ramona explained. "I know that if He wants me to spread the good news, I will." She admitted balancing mission work and family responsibilities is sometimes challenging.

"The difference between this situation and a traditional missionary pastoral is that the whole family, children included, is called to evangelize," explained Father Scomparin.

"Generosity in collaborating with God and being open to life is rewarded by having a joyous and alive family community."

He added that there are "several thousand" families worldwide ready to be sent.

The concept of sending families on mission arose in 1986, in response to Pope John Paul II's call for a new evangelization. Bishops and other leaders invite families and direct them where to go and what to do.

Every few years the current Pope celebrates an official sending-out for all families in mission, presenting them with crucifixes and giving a blessing.

Pope Francis met with The Way founders and expressed his appreciation of the initiative's work on Sept. 5.

"I thank you for the immense good that you are doing for the whole Church," he said, the Zenit news agency reported.

Milton and Grethel Davis (and seven children) are the newest family in mission to arrive in Vancouver. Here from Nicaragua since 2006, they have seen The Way's impact grow from two communities to five.

"The Lord wants to love Vancouver: that's why He sends poor missionaries," Grethel said. The two have been helping with marriage, baptism, and confirmation preparation as well as catechesis and youth groups.

Milton sees their lives as having two missions: to evangelize and to have a family.

"We are here because the Lord has fulfilled us. We found what we were looking for," Grethel added.

By Agnieszka KrawczynskiMary Johnson

Thursday, 03 October 2013 07:54

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