Just ask a well-traveled missionary or someone who is dedicated to supporting the faith-based cause to provide hope in some of the most desperate corners of the world.
Focusing on priestly formation in developing nations and the many challenges and rigors of missionary life, national diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies recently gathered in San Francisco, reaffirming the requirement for people to understand that local awareness and parish-level action is strategically connected with the global calling to help others.
Msgr. Robert J. Fuhrman, director of the archdiocesan Pontifical Mission Societies office the past 14 years as well as the office of the Propagation of the Faith, was among the attendees at the annual conference. The Archdiocese of Newark, under Msgr. Fuhrman's leadership, is among the most productive in income for the general fund of the Propagation of the Faith.
Sister Arline Zurich, O.S.B., who coordinates the Pontifical Mission Societies program for the Church in Newark, also attended the three-day meeting. Keynote speakers at the conference included diocesan directors from Zambia, Ecuador and Ireland along with a seminary rector from Sri Lanka.
A major theme of the San Francisco confab, explained Msgr. Fuhrman, who is also the pastor of Saint Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Saddle River, was the idea of linking the local and international aspects of missionary work. "A little does accomplish a lot," Msgr. Fuhrman declared. "One person from a parish here (in the Archdiocese of Newark) can change lives forever, can feed souls far away."
The Pontifical Mission Societies is the umbrella organization for three distinct groups: the Society of the Propagation of the Faith which supports the missions and helps spread the Gospel; the Society of Saint Peter the Apostle that works with mission seminaries along with priestly and religious formation worldwide; and the Holy Childhood Association, which is involved with children's apostolates here and abroad.
Reflecting on the work of the Pontifical Missions Societies, Msgr. Fuhrman said "many good people sacrifice for the missions. They may wonder where their money goes, what is accomplished. The fact is that where people suffer, the Church is present and, through our missionaries in the field, we are also present. In Rwanda and elsewhere the faith is ultimately the only hope for the people. We are needed to give them that hope."
When asked to cite luminaries in the missionary field, Msgr. Fuhrman said he was particularly impressed with the career and work of Archbishop Henryk Hoser, the international president of the Pontifical Mission Societies (Web site: www.missionsocieties.org.uk) and adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Archbishop Hoser was a featured speaker at the conference and Msgr. Fuhrman met with him.
Before entering the seminary of the Pallottine Order, Archbishop Hoser studied medicine at the Warsaw Medical Academy in his native Poland. He practiced medicine and was on the academy staff prior to pursuing the priesthood.
Archbishop Hoser was ordained in 1974 and a year later went to the troubled African nation of Rwanda as a missionary priest. Rwanda is the African continent's most Catholic country with 65 percent of its 8 million inhabitants identifying themselves as Catholic.
Rwanda's turbulent history of ethnic tension and violence includes the slaughter of more than 500,000 during a three-month period in 1994. This horrific episode later became know as the infamous Rwandan Genocide. Author Immaculee Ilibagiza-a survivor of the genocide-delivered a presentation on her experiences earlier this year at Caldwell College (see The Catholic Advocate, May 9).
During the genocide, then-Father Hoser remained in the country. He was a pastor and medical missionary and founded a center for health and family services in the capital city of Kigali. He also supervised a Center for Family Action program and established other efforts to combat AIDS and help the mentally ill.
Archbishop Hoser, ordained an archbishop a dozen years ago, has held several leadership positions in the Pallottine Order. Msgr. Fuhrman described Archbishop Hoser as "a quiet man but a heroic figure in the Church's mission field. He is a man of faith and courage. I am happy to have him leading the way for our missionary effort."
Last year Msgr. Fuhrman, who celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination, participated as a speaker at the first "Church in Mission" forum, which was held at Seton Hall University, South Orange, under the auspices of the World Mission Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Pontifical Missions Societies (see The Catholic Advocate, Dec. 6, 2006).
Contact the archdiocesan office of the Propagation of the Faith at (973) 497-4372 for more information on the work of the Pontifical Mission Societies.