|The missionaries’ life is not easy. They come from middle-class and well-off families, yet in the towns they sleep on the floor of dusty schools or abandoned houses without running water. They eat whatever people offer them.|
National Catholic Register
BY FATHER ALFONSO
HERMOSILLO, Mexico — After climbing a
hill, three young men knocked at the dilapidated door of
the only house in this outlying rural area. There was
no reply from inside — but one of the boys
happened to look through the window and saw a man
in bed. He didn’t look well.
hour later, a priest administered the last rites to the
dying man just a few minutes before he passed away.
There are a lot of stories like this
after the door-to-door missions organized by Youth and Missionary Families
for the Third Millennium, an international network of lay missionaries
sponsored by the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, the
Legion’s movement of apostolate.
Since its founding in
1993, the network has trained 50,000 lay catechists, 170,000 youth
and 20,000 families to help foster the Catholic faith in
7 million houses in 20,000 towns of 30 countries.
With its headquarters in Atlanta, the American branch
of the organization sponsors missions in the United States, Canada
and Mexico (see YTM.org).
Every year, the network’s
evangelizing effort reaches its peak in what is called “Megamissions.”
Throughout the academic year, thousands of families and young people
in the United States, Mexico and eight other countries are
trained to spend Holy Week doing door-to-door missions.
Every missionary receives a package — a prayer book, a
mission guidebook, a wooden cross and the network’s uniform that
includes a white T-shirt, a cap and a red bandanna
to wear around the neck.
|Every missionary receives a package with a prayer book, a mission guidebook, a wooden cross and the network’s uniform.|
and the families officially start their missionary work with a
noon Mass on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, during which
the wooden cross to hang from one’s neck is blessed
and given out. In Mexico City, more than 10,000 missionaries
attend the “Mission” Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady
This year, 55,000 young Mexicans and
a few thousand Americans spent their spring-break vacations on Megamissions
— preaching the Gospel among 1.5 million poor people in
more than 2,000 small towns.
priests are needed to administer
the sacraments during the week-long Megamissions. To help out, I
flew from Rome to Mexico with 27 other Legionary priests.
|Father Alfonso Aguilar, LC|
I spent Holy Week in five towns of
2,000 inhabitants each in the state of Sonora, in the
north of Mexico. I arrived there with five teams of
12 to 15 boys, ages 16 to 22, from Hermosillo,
the capital city of Sonora. Our mission territory was once
inhabited by the Yaqui Indians, who in the past killed
many Spanish missionaries before they converted to the Catholic faith.
“I came here expecting to give away something
of what I have,” said Jesús Ontiveros, a 20-year-old missionary.
“In the end, I received more than what I could
give. People’s simplicity and thirst for God taught me a
“Me too,” added José Guillot, a
high-school senior. “I felt the need to learn more about
my faith so as to preach it.”
keep centuries-old traditions, such as the living Stations of the
Cross and a Holy Saturday silent procession following a statue
of Our Lady — a way to accompany the Mother
of Christ in her sorrow.
Throughout the week,
I heard more than 300 confessions. The seriously ill were
anointed. I gave the last rites to an old lady
who passed away at the end of the Easter Vigil
The missionaries’ life is not easy.
They come from middle-class and well-off families, yet in the
towns they sleep on the floor of dusty schools or
abandoned houses without running water. They eat whatever people offer
|This year, 55,000 young Mexicans and a few thousand Americans spent their spring-break vacations on Megamissions.|
The poor, however, tend to be
generous and grateful and give them the best they can
— tacos, frijoles, tamales, lemonade. Sometimes, the missionaries don’t get
much time to sleep — during Holy Thursday night they
go to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in one-hour shifts.
I heard no complaint about the rough conditions.
“Living here for a week was an
eye-opener to me,” said Andrés Landiere, a college student. “I
learned how to appreciate God’s gifts to me and also
learned that material goods are not necessary to be happy.”
I did missions in four towns of the state of
Tabasco, in the southeast of Mexico, with 21 missionary families
from Villahermosa, the state’s capital city. The families had 50
children with them, ages two to 17.
|I spent Holy Week in five towns of 2,000 inhabitants each in the state of Sonora, in the north of Mexico.|
“I envy my three kids,” said Roberto Díaz, the leader
of the missionary families. “As an adult, I had to
work hard on getting to know and spread my faith.
My children, instead, are growing up doing missions. For them,
evangelizing is the most natural thing.”
their parents on their week-long missions, children benefited in other
“My two little daughters come
with us when we visit people in their houses,” said
Alfredo Carvallo. “In this way, Lorena and Sofía learn to
share what they have with the less fortunate and appreciate
more the gifts God has given them.”
“They also learn good lessons from the poor,” added Nelly,
Alfredo’s wife. “To thank us, some of the families we
visited gave us a chicken or a few hundred pesos
— dozens of dollars — practically all they had to
live on for the next couple of days.”
The exposure to a priest’s work is a natural way
to foster vocations. On those days, two 13-year-old missionary boys
and a 15-year-old boy from a town told me they
were seriously considering becoming priests and had to visit a
Many of the missionaries volunteer to take
part in a follow-up program by which they commit themselves
to go back to the same towns for a few
hours every other week of the year. In this way,
they make sure the seeds sown during the Megamissions do
not die out but rather bear fruit over time.
Parish priests are most grateful.
“I am the only priest in the area in charge
of 10 towns,” Father Rodrigo Morales told me. “Having other
priests celebrating the sacraments and missionaries preaching the Gospel in
my towns was an unexpected, God-sent blessing.”
| “Missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!”|
As I flew back from Mexico to Rome, I thought
how right John Paul II was when he wrote in
his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer):
“Missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity,
and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faith is strengthened
when it is given to others!”
Father Alfonso Aguilar teaches philosophy at Rome’s
Regina Apostolorum University.