By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published October 29, 2009
The great missionary Apostle Paul urged the church communities that he founded to aid one another. In many respects, Paul is the founder of the “second collection” as we now know it since he urged his disciples to be generous in assisting the needs of the other churches.
The church communities that occupied Paul’s world were small by comparison, and many of them would have been dwarfed in size by even our smallest Atlanta parishes. Yet Paul wanted those early Christians to be aware of the needs of one another. This concern that disciples have for one another is an ancient dimension of our Faith in Christ Jesus.
The second Synod of Bishops for Africa highlighted for me the needs of the Church in Africa, as well as the gifts that Africa bestows upon many local churches—including the Archdiocese of Atlanta—in the persons of the clergy and religious who serve generously throughout the world.
Yet the Church in Africa is very much in need of the assistance of the Church in the developed world. It is not that Africa herself is a destitute continent—quite the opposite! Africa is rich in natural resources of all types. Yet she remains an exploited continent because of the unscrupulous activities of many corporations and nations who ravish her riches in full collaboration with many of her own governments and business people. It is a sad story to be sure, and each one of us should take the time to see if any of those multi-national corporations and businesses in which we might hold investments are guilty of such oppressive activity.
Nevertheless Africa is also a land of great and widespread violence that people inflict upon one another. One of the Sudanese bishops attending the Synod had to depart early because one of his parishes had been attacked by rebels who seized and crucified (yes, that was the chosen torture) a number of his parishioners.
Unfortunately, such violence is not an isolated event in places like Somalia and Sudan. Elections in many other places are the occasion for political and social unrest and brutal retribution. The bishops who shepherd these communities are men of extraordinary faith, and their people are equal to them in faith and hope. Yet they remain highly dependent upon the attention and response of the world community to their plight. This was one of the reasons that the Holy Father called this second Synod of Bishops so that people would hear of and reply to the needs of these local churches and the great suffering of too many people on that vast continent.
Several of the bishops at the Synod made a point to speak with me about being placed on our annual Mission Appeal list. I assured them that we would bear in mind their requests. We receive many such appeals from the Church in missionary lands: Vietnam, Central and Latin America, the nations of the former communist block, and dioceses in the Caribbean. There are several different “second collections” that respond to the needs of these mission lands: Catholic Relief Services, the Church in Latin America collection, the collection for the Eastern European churches, and our Mission Cooperative appeals. In addition, many of our parishes support the needs of sister parishes in some of these places. We respond to Mustard Seed, the Missionaries of Charity, and other religious communities who serve the poor throughout the world. When a natural disaster occurs, we are quick with our generosity both internationally and locally. We are a generous people, and that is why I felt certain that some of these African dioceses would benefit from our charity.
Christine Heusinger in the Stewardship Office keeps tabs of the various requests that come our way, and once a year, she tallies up the monies that have been collected in our parishes for the Mission Cooperative and divides that sum among those that have requested our help during the current year. Many of you assist in other ways, directly supporting the work of the Church and the needs of the poor through other benevolent organizations.
I could not thank you enough for your charity to those people and faith communities that depend upon us.
Discipleship means that we care about one another. Discipleship means that the needs of the Church touch our hearts and inspire us to tend to the needs of others—whether those impacted by local floods and hurricanes that destroy the lives of people in our own nation or in lands that we have only just read about. It seems that all we require is a reminder of the need, and we open our lives in concern for others. It is a tradition that Paul began for the ancient Church, and we have been having “second collections” since then—with no end in sight, as long as there is a need that we find!