I was enjoying a meal in a Mexican restaurant in Bellmawr when I noticed three women who entered and began to engage the young waitress in conversation. Not that I was eavesdropping, but their talk was quite animated and I overheard Spanish words very familiar to me…“Iglesia” (Church); “parroquia” (parish), “Misa” (Mass), “quinceañera” (coming of age ceremony for teenage girls). One of the women had in her hands what appeared to be a stack of posters. The encounter between the women and the waitress ended with both sides repeating “¡Dios te bendiga!”, that is, God bless you. As the three women departed the restaurant they taped one of their posters in a very prominent spot on the front window of the restaurant and off they went.
When we finished our meal and left the restaurant, I paused to read the poster on which, to my delight, was an invitation to the nearby parish of Saint Joachim; a phone number, not the parish number (I suspect the cell of one of the women), with an encouraging message to call with any questions or for information about such topics as the Baptism of infants, preparation of children for the Sacraments, religious education classes and a variety of religious services and groups for adults offered by the parish. The time of the Sunday Spanish Mass was also listed. In that area there is an increase of Latinos, many of whom are Mexicans who possibly might frequent that restaurant. That poster with its message of welcome to the Catholic Church would be seen. Who knows what might result? What response the poster would provoke?
I realized that I had witnessed three Missionary Disciples in action. Missionary Disciples which our Holy Father Pope Francis has proposed as a way of being Catholic for each member of the Church. The Pope urges the faithful to purposefully engage in evangelical activities. This means to intentionally spread the Good News of the Gospel. To invite all men and women to our Catholic Church. To act with the spirit of Missionaries who in the name of God go to others. To live as followers (Disciples) of Jesus Christ. Following Him in every situation and everywhere.
Disciples encourage, assist and welcome all to our Church. By their witness and commitment they want others to experience what they have experienced – the love of Jesus Christ. That is what the three women in the restaurant were all about. True Missionary Disciples who are a blessing for our Church. More women and men like them are needed in every parish community in our diocese.
Missionary Disciples share their faith by inviting others to Christ and His Church. They extend a welcome by accompanying others, bringing them to the community of believers. They seek out all, especially those who for whatever reasons have distanced themselves from Christ and from His Church. They encourage people to know that God loves them and desires their friendship. They want our Church to be a spiritual home for all peoples.
A challenge for us is to become more familiar with and accept this call to Missionary Discipleship. The challenge is to understand that to be a disciple of Jesus Christ means we cannot be content with leaving this work to a priest or a religious. Each one of us can actively bring others to Christ and His Church by our actions, words and example. Each of us knows someone who for whatever reason has cut himself or herself off from the Church or from the Lord. We need to go to them; to be with them, to listen to their stories, especially of hurt, and to encourage them by our words and example back God and to the Church.
The three women with the poster for the restaurant window most likely placed posters in other windows of shops in that area. That was their Mission. To get out information about the parish. Their commitment to Christ meant going from shop to shop and seeking permission from the proprietor to leave their poster of welcome to the parish. Their mission and they themselves are an example of Missionary Discipleship.
There are numerous opportunities and situations in which each of us can do what our Holy Father Francis asks us to do. To attract others to faith and the Church by our living the faith in the Church and by our going out to others. This is not complicated. It is as easy as hanging a poster in a restaurant.