As he prepares for the annual World Mission Sunday collection the weekend of Oct. 18-19, Rev. Msgr. Robert Fuhrman, director of the archdiocesan Pontifical Mission Societies office, realizes his task is one that is never "fully achieved or completed" due to world conditions.
"People live in profound poverty and, in many cases, have their freedom denied, their faith repressed. This is the life of the missionary of the Church. His or her job is to preach (the Gospel of) Jesus Christ and to serve the people in His holy name," Msgr. Fuhrman explained.
Interview in his office at the Archdiocesan Center, Msgr. Fuhrman-who also serves as the pastor of Saint Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Saddle River-is blunt in his assessment of global poverty. "Two thirds of the world is mission territory. With her people, the Church struggles in developing countries, whether in poverty, persecution or some natural crises. We Americans would find it hard to imaging what mission life can involve."
High-profile areas where the mission Church is at work, he went on, are Africa, parts of Latin America and much of Asia. China, Msgr. Fuhrman said, "is a vast land of great potential. Catholic evangelization is essential there, though very, very difficult."
The Chinese government requires the registration of bishops and church communities, according to reports in Catholic News Service. Some Catholics view this registration requirement as a tool for control and prefer to exercise the faith in a semiclandestine manner. Pope Benedict XVI, last August, while visiting the birthplace of an Italian missionary to China, said that as China's economic, cultural and political influence grows "it is important that this great nation opens itself to the Gospel."
The local Pontifical Mission Societies director sees the purpose of his office as that of recognizing "all people are equal in God's sight." As a result, he explained, there is a very real obligation to "share resources" thereby enabling the poor and oppressed to "hear the Gospel and experience the sacraments." Doing so, Msgr. Fuhrman stressed, results in the Church "fulfilling its mission as given by Jesus."
The worldwide locales in which the mission Church ministers, Msgr. Fuhrman lamented, are where conditions are only getting worse. He used as examples parts of India, central Africa, Indonesia and Haiti. It is interesting to note people from these remote parts of the world regularly relocate to the four counties of the Archdiocese of Newark, making it one of the most culturally diverse corners of the United States. Considering this spiritual connection, even though the Pontifical Mission Societies targets assistance to those in far-off lands, the work and challenges profoundly resonate here in the archdiocese.
On any given day, examples of a suffering people that take on staggering proportions addressed by the mission Church can be found in poignant letters piled high on Msgr. Fuhrman's desk. For example, in one typewritten letter, Rev. Msgr. Daniel Vilerior from the seminary of Saint Pius X in Roxas City, the Philippines, asks for financial help "because our parish is poor." Current economic conditions and the "oil crisis," Msgr. Vilerior wrote, have adversely affected the faithful and local clergy. A similar request came in a letter from the bishop of Tambura-Yambio Diocese in the extreme southern portion of the war-torn African nation of Sudan.
Father V. John Bosco from Holy Cross Parish in the Kurnool District of India submitted a handwritten letter. Where he ministers, Father Bosco said with regret, "Christians are living as coolies (menial laborers) at the hands of high-caste people." In his parish, Fr. Bosco goes on, most of the faithful are from the lower caste. Stressing his efforts to educate the children, many of whom are orphans.
Several distinct entities make up the Pontifical Mission Societies. Probably best known is the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which provides the means for the Church to function. The Society of Saint Peter the Apostle supports the education and formation of Religious and clergy. Under the guidance of Sister Arline Zurich, O.S.B. in the Archdiocese of Newark, the Holy Childhood Association cultivates the concept of "children helping children."
Help for the small and sometimes persecuted Catholic minority comes through the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Each year a small percentage of the archdiocesan World Mission Sunday collection is sent as humanitarian aid to the Middle East, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Other facets the Pontifical Mission Societies include Mass offerings, designate gifts and legacy donations.
Msgr. Fuhrman was emphatic in explaining that his office insisted on the faithful "knowing where their money goes through a completely transparent process." The foundation of that process is the procedure under which funds are forwarded to the Papal Nuncio in each mission country, which in turn makes its way to the district bishops.
"That is the right way to do it," Msgr. Fuhrman said, pointing out the system has "very low overhead. We're serious about frugality."
Still, he regrets, "demand is outstripping supply but a donation of $25 on World Mission Sunday could bring great relief to an orphanage in India or a medical clinic in Oceania. We may forget how far our offerings can go." Msgr. Fuhrman said a bishop recently visited him from Dindigal in southern India who was appointed three years ago and as yet does not have any kind of office. The "chancery" where he works is the hallway of a building.
From the perspective of the Archdiocese of Newark, noted Msgr. Fuhrman, there is the constant striving to help the missions by "cultivating prayer." There must also be the recognition, he stressed, to be in "solidarity with the poor" in conjunction with "joyful giving." World Mission Sunday, he wanted everyone to know, is the "most important" fund-raiser of the year. In urging the faithful to be generous, Msgr. Fuhrman said the poor sacrifice to help those in even worse circumstances. His parish, he said, is the "most generous" in the archdiocese.
Citing the current tough economic conditions facing the country, Msgr. Fuhrman is convinced that "when you give to the poor you are rewarded."