I am very glad to celebrate this Mass of thanksgiving for 70 years of the Apostolic Society here in Armagh.  Today we give praise and thanks to God for all God’s gifts, but especially for His Son, Jesus Christ.  We remember especially the command of Jesus, “to go make disciples of all nations” and for His fantastic promise, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of time.” 

We give thanks today, especially for missionaries who have taken that command of Jesus to heart.  We give thanks especially for the 2,000 Irish lay and religious missionaries who are serving in 83 different countries.  The majority of Irish missionaries work in the areas of pastoral care, health and education and the Irish Missionary Union invites all Irish people to celebrate the contribution of Irish people on missions around the world and to highlight the activities in which missionaries are involved.  They invite us across the bridge to reach out to peoples from all over the world.  We are especially grateful for the missionaries here present today, especially for   Fr Damien McKenna.  We remember in this Mass the people whom they love and serve in their various mission territories.

We give thanks to God for the Apostolic Society and for the ever-faithful Apostolic Workers who provide wonderful back-up to their Brothers and Sisters on the mission fields.

Here in Ireland we celebrate October as Mission Awareness month.  Mission Alive is a project of the Irish Missionary Union.  It promotes, renews and celebrates the work of missionaries in witnessing the Gospel of justice and peace around the world.  The Irish Missionary Union is a body of 83 missionary lay and religious organisations.  They are dedicated to supporting the work of their members and the people they serve. 

Here in this diocese at the moment, we have two priests from Nigeria working in Dundalk and Ardee.  They are members of the Missionary Society of St Paul.  We have had priests from other African nations, for example, from Burundi, helping out over the summer.  We welcome them very sincerely. 

Irish missionaries have always received a welcome around the world.  They are the first in turn to welcome all newcomers to Ireland and they deplore the horrific racist attacks on migrants which have blemished the face of Ireland in recent times.

And so today I invite you, with great pride and great joy, to celebrate the contribution of Irish people on mission around the world.  It is only right that we highlight what Irish missionaries are doing.  Today Irish Mission Awareness invites us to cross the bridge and reach out.  It is important that we try and understand the needs of the people where the missionaries are serving. 

We applaud young people who travel to mission countries for mission experience, for example, the University of Ulster at Coleraine and a group from Habitat for Humanity who are involved in building houses in Ethiopia.  We applaud those many schools who also organise such projects.  Here in Armagh, for example, St Catherine’s College brought groups to Kenya.  St Patrick’s Grammar School are involved in helping in the orphanages in Romania..  Sr Noelle Corscadden, the Chairperson of                          Chara says, “What distinguished the development and work of missionaries on a project is that they do not just tackle poverty through the practicality of providing aid, nor by providing the physical presence of assistance.  What they also provide is a deep compassion and long-term commitment to building up the communities and peoples with whom they both live and work”.  This is what makes the Missionaries stand apart from other aid agencies and that is why the impact of missionaries has made such a difference to some of the world’s poorest countries.  They bring deep compassion and long-term commitment to building up the communities and peoples with whom they work. 

According to Irish Aid, the missionaries have tirelessly worked in the world’s poorest countries for over a century.  Today these efforts continue with Irish missionaries working to alleviate poverty and suffering in developing countries.  They are engaged in projects and programmes in a variety of areas including education, health care, humanitarian relief and conflict resolution.  According to Sister Miriam Dougan, the President of the Irish Mission Union, Irish missionaries play a central role today in advocating for the vulnerable who are struggling against debt, unfair trade policies and human rights abuses.  The missionaries are engaged in this work with the same passion, spiritual commitment and humility that has always characterised missionary work and these qualities stem directly from a commitment to living the Gospel.

Writing in a special edition of the Irish Missionary Union Report, Fr Eamon Edward, the IMU Executive’s Secretary says, “Any genuine attempt to read the signs of the times today in the western world must recognise that our world is changing in a significant way.  From a faith point of view this reality is inviting us to reflect on the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work, changing our world and our Church.”  It seems to me that he says that at this time in our history the Holy Spirit is speaking clearly to us of the necessity to discover how we can be missionaries to our own people.  Leadership is called for in the Irish Church to move us away from a pastoral maintenance model of Church to a missionary model, therein lies hope for the future.

In his message for Mission Sunday 2009, Pope Benedict appeals to all of us to become more deeply aware of the command of Christ, to go make disciples of all nations.  He says we must live the longing to illuminate all peoples with the light of Christ that shines on the face of the Church, so that all may be gathered into the one human family under God’s loving fatherhood.  The Church works, not to extend power or affirm dominion, but to carry to all, Christ, the salvation of the world. 

The effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity, humanity which has experienced marvellous achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate realities and of existence itself.  Dispersion, multiplicity, conflict, enmity will be calmed and reconciled through the blood of the Cross and led back to unity. 

The Church wishes to transform the world with its proclamation of the Gospel of love.  It is a Gospel that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world.  To this mission, Pope Benedict calls all the members and institutions of the Church to participate. 

The essential mission of the Church is to evangelise all people.  It is a duty which the widespread and profound changes in present day society render ever more urgent.  At stake is the eternal salvation of all people, the golden accomplishment of human history and the universe.  Pope Benedict asks all Catholics to pray that the Holy Spirit will intensify the Church’s passion for the mission to spread the Kingdom of God and to support missionaries and Christian communities involved in the front line, often in situation of hostility and persecution.  At the same time I ask everyone to offer, as a sign of communion among the churches, financial assistance, especially in these times of crisis affecting all humanity, to help the young churches to be able to eliminate the nations with the gospel of charity.

Missionaries are involved in facing the changes and challenges of this new millennium.  For example, the 40 million HIV Aids sufferers spread across the globe; the rise of tuberculosis and malaria world-wide, with 1.8 million dying from TB in Africa last year; the sheer levels of poverty and hunger, millions of refugees living in sub-human conditions, the issues of conflict, corruption and debt.  Mission tries to bring God’s love and God’s hope into this brokenness.