Ushetu, Tanzania, November 2, 2015.
Sometimes I think that the work of a missionary is not well understood. This is understandable because missionary work is part of a mystery. Since he takes part in the Eucharist, the missionary priest participates in this “mystery of faith.” For some people, the missionary ought to “do things”… above all in the world’s opinion. It seems like the value of the missionary is measured by how many things, visible things, and works, preferably social works, he does. When someone asks what I do in Africa, I respond that I am a missionary. Yes, but what do you do? That’s just it, I am a missionary, and like Christ commanded the first missionaries, I preach the gospel. At times they keep looking at me a little disappointed… because, of course, only from the point of view of faith can one understand that our lives are devoted only to this: to preaching the gospel.
I was thinking about this today because, as you know, on All Souls Day priests pray three Masses for the souls in purgatory. I celebrated my first Mass in the Church, with the participation of the people, albeit not very many people. I think the attendance was low today for several reasons, among them being that rainy season has started and everyone goes out to work in the fields. Moreover, it was raining today exactly when Mass started, and finally, since it is a weekday, it was a normal day for classes, etc. Anyway, there were at least a few people and after the celebration of the Mass we went to the parish cemetery to bless the graves. In the middle of the morning I prayed two Masses in a private oratory by myself. It’s true that it is better to try to celebrate with a congregation, but that would have been a little complicated, and I wanted to make sure that I celebrated these Masses.
While I was there in the solitude of the Mass, where you could listen to the silence and pray for a good amount of time, I was thinking… I am a missionary! By being here I am a missionary in Africa, and I am doing the most important thing that a missionary in Africa can do, which is to make Christ present in the Eucharist, precisely in this place and not elsewhere. This is my duty, and God brought me here for this. I remembered the words of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, whom I quoted for you a little while ago, who considered himself happy to be able to be in the middle of the Sahara desert, because if he wasn’t there then there wouldn’t be any Masses in that place, and Christ wouldn’t be present in the Eucharist… in the midst of a vast expanse. In a letter to the Head of the ecclesiastical delegation of the Sahara he wrote, “The object is […] above all to sanctify the infidel populations by bringing into their midst Jesus present in the most Blessed Sacrament, as Mary sanctified the house of St. John the Baptist by bringing Jesus into it. […] I take the liberty of adding that the presence of your unworthy servant in the Sahara, although he be very poor, will probably save several souls who will otherwise die without the Sacraments, and that it will give your delegation one more tabernacle, and one more holy sacrifice daily.” On one occasion, upon arriving to an oasis, making camp, and celebrating the Holy Mass, he was moved to think that, “Probably no priest has ever been here. I am very much affected at bringing down Jesus into these places, where, in all probability, he has never been corporally.” And there he made Christ present sacramentally.
We should never think that we have to choose between preaching the gospel and performing works of mercy. We must do the one without neglecting the other, and doing works of mercy should be a way of preaching the gospel with deeds. The missionary of the Sahara understood this also; he always gave generously of what he had, gave alms, ransomed slaves, and desired to construct schools and hospitals. But he always gave priority to what was most important. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta did likewise. She remembered that all of the strength of the Missionaries of Charity came from the two hours of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and that all of the attention given to the poor and the sick was not done out of any purely human motive.
Many good people notice that the work we do in this mission is “only” attend to a parish. Or better said, they don’t notice the work of celebrating Mass in far-away villages, bringing the sacraments to all those who are in need of them, hearing confessions for hours, trying to better form the catechists, seeking an increase in love for the Sacred Heart, the Eucharist, and the Virgin Mary. They don’t notice the work of desiring that the people learn to pray better, to speak to Jesus in their hearts, to read the Bible fruitfully. The world doesn’t notice that day by day a priest celebrates the Mass, hears confessions, and administers the sacraments.
As missionaries, we also dream of schools, orphanages, and homes for the disabled. But we know that all of this is in order to attend to Christ in the poor and to save the souls of the greatest number of people possible, to give testimony to the Christian life, our faith expressed in works.
This is the mystery of faith! This is the mystery of the missionary life, united to Christ in the Eucharist, which goes unperceived by the eyes of the world, but not by the eyes of God.
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16).
Stay firm in the breach!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE
 Foucauld to Mgr. Bazin. ” La Trappe de Notre-Dame-des-Neiges. ” August 22, 1901. https://archive.org/stream/charlesdefoucaul00bazi/charlesdefoucaul00bazi_djvu.txtCharles de
 Qtd. in Bazin, Rene. “Charles de Foucauld: Hermit and Explorer.” Trans. Peter Keelan. New York: Benziger Brothers, 1923. p.149.