Celebrating our Missionary Children
THE year 2018 is a year of milestones. From a Missio Scotland perspective, the Association of the Holy Childhood—now known as Missionary Children—one of the key components of the Pontifical Mission Societies, was formed 175 years ago by Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson in France and has been active in our Catholic schools here in Scotland for decades.
This year also marks the centenary of the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act, which brought Catholic schools into the state system and relieved Catholics of the financial burden of not only supporting their own schools, but, through their tax contributions, state schools as well. As Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow noted: “The act gave Catholic children and young people, parity of access and parity of opportunity with Scottish young people.”
Furthermore, His Holiness Pope Francis has chosen ‘Young people, the faith and discernment of vocation,’ as the theme for this year’s Synod of Bishops, while the Scottish Government has designated 2018 as the ‘Year of Young People,’ in an attempt to inspire Scotland through its young people, celebrating their achievements, valuing their contribution to communities and creating new opportunities for them to shine locally, nationally and globally. Clearly then, 2018 intends to shine a light on young people, their faith, gifts, talents and successes.
However, celebrating our young people is something that we here at Missio Scotland do not restrict to a given year. It is something that we endeavour to do at all times. It’s important that we do not let milestones become millstones as we are part of a living Church and it is young Catholics who breathe new life into it. That is a point that the Holy Father made reference to in his message for World Mission Sunday 2018, with regard to the foundation of the Pontifical Mission Societies.
“The Pontifical Mission Societies were born of young hearts as a means of supporting the preaching of the Gospel to every nation and thus contributing to the human and cultural growth of all those who thirst for knowledge of the truth,” the Pope said. “The prayers and the material aid generously given and distributed through the Pontifical Mission Societies enable the Holy See to ensure that those who are helped in their personal needs can in turn bear witness to the Gospel in the circumstances of their daily lives. No one is so poor as to be unable to give what they have, but first and foremost what they are.”
The pupils in our schools who interact with Missio Scotland express the universality of the Church by praying for and donating funds to their brothers and sisters around the world—both of which are vital and the rocks upon which our charity is built—and it’s something that they’ve been doing for many years now.
Support for Bauchi
In 1957, the then Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Gordon Gray, invited his priests to volunteer for a spell in the missions. In 1962, he went to Nigeria to visit some of those same priests who had volunteered to work there. The following year, while in Rome for the Second Vatican Council, the archbishop met with Bishop Reddington of Jos Diocese, Nigeria—which encompassed the province of Bauchi—and they discussed the needs of that area, an area bigger than Scotland. Archbishop Gray returned to Scotland and consulted with his priests, and, as a result, in 1964 adopted Bauchi, promising to supply the priests required and finance the building of churches and other infrastructure. One such priest who served there was Canon Leo Glancy, Missio Scotland’s current Diocesan Director for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. The archdiocese itself became involved in a series of events and fundraising initiatives to help to build up the Diocese of Bauchi and Catholic schoolchildren were involved right from the very beginning.
In 1963, one year before the adoption of Bauchi Diocese, children from St Modan’s High School in Stirling got the ball rolling by contributing £240 and 1248lbs of dried milk to St Mary’s Hospital in Urua Akpan—which was run by the Medical Missionaries of Mary—for hungry children. The school had been running a Freedom from Hunger campaign since 1962.
“Every penny given by the pupils is turned into milk for the under-fed children,” St Modan’s former Rector Allan McCann said.
Letters received by the school at that time from the Mother Superior of the hospital, Sister Galgani, stated that countless young lives had been saved by the donation of dried milk and the quantity received meant that they were also able to provide some of the food to a nearby leper colony.
Within a decade, it was revealed that 75 per cent of the funds that had been donated to the new Nigerian diocese had come through the efforts of the youth of the archdiocese.
In 1978, Cardinal Gray paid a visit to St Cuthbert’s Primary School in the Slateford area of Edinburgh to congratulate them for such efforts, which saw them raise £550 for Bauchi during Lent through a number of innovative initiatives. The children arranged sponsored and spelling contests, held prize draws and coffee mornings, all of which took them over their initial target of £500. For his part, the cardinal celebrated Mass in the school, praised the pupils and teachers for their generosity and presented Royal Jubilee silver coins to the primary seven schoolchildren, who had done the bulwark of the fundraising work.
Our schools have also been at the forefront of raising money for the congregations who work in mission countries and territories all over the world, many of whom in the past boasted a number of Scottish-born priests or religious sisters among them.
St Joseph’s Primary School in Stepps was one such school. In 1978, they presented Fr Gerry Geddes from the White Fathers and Sr Elizabeth of the Columban Sisters with a cheque for £1800 each for their congregations’ work in Zambia and the Philippines respectively. The money had been raised during Lent and went towards providing fresh water for a village in Zambia and a new school in the Philippines, where the St Joseph’s Catholic community had chosen to adopt a parish. The school and its pupils continued to support religious congregations many years later. In 1987 they presented a cheque for nearly £2000 to Fr John Lalor of the St Patrick’s Missionary Society (Kiltegan Fathers) for a water project in Turkana, Kenya. The Columban Missionaries were given a cheque for a similar amount to help support health and education projects.
The same year, St Mary’s Primary School donated more than £1000 to Mill Hill Missionary Fr William McAvoy, which went to support their work in Kenya. The Mill Hill Missionaries retain a strong connection with Missio England and Wales.
The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary were also the beneficiaries of more than £600 as a result of the efforts of the pupils and staff of St James’ Primary School in Renfrew, 60 of whom took part in a sponsored sing-along to raise the amount. Sr Jo Wardhaugh, of the FMM was heading to Shama in Southern Ethiopia to work in a sick children’s clinic and she was on hand to receive the cheque.
“I’m tremendously grateful to the children for the enjoyment, fun and hard work which went into their Songs of Praise afternoon,” Sr Jo said. “They have been studying the village of Shama at school and are very involved in the project.”
Fundraising initiatives—while inextricably linked with Catholic school communities—often also took place outside of the classroom. Our schools have often produced many world class Irish dancers, but in 1979, dancers from Scotland and England brought new meaning to the word ‘champion’ by taking part in a Charity Feis held in the Junior Seminary of the Verona Fathers in Leeds. As a result of the Feis—largely organised by the people of St Columba’s parish in Viewpark—£1500 was raised for the Verona Fathers.
The volume of fundraising undertaken by our schoolchildren over the course of decades hasn’t gone unnoticed, not only by ourselves but the wider Church in Scotland too.
In 1979, it was reported that Catholics in Scotland raised £386,000 for the missions in the previous year, a feature of which was a highly successful series of Church-caring weeks in schools.
A few short years later, in 1983, it was revealed that children in Scotland’s Catholic primary schools had broken through the £100,000 barrier in fundraising for children in the developing world. That amazing total raised by the 230 schools for the Missionary Children society put our children fourth in the international table according to Missionary Children’s International Director, Mgr Henri Bodet, who had visited Scotland in 1982.
“It was a remarkable achievement for such a small country,” Mgr Bodet said.
Missionary Children’s then National Secretary and Treasurer, Mgr Ben Donachie of St James’ parish in Kinross, was quick to echo Mgr Bodet’s praise stating: “I’m delighted at the efforts of all the schools involved in the scheme. To break through the £100,000 barrier for the first time is a great achievement.”
More than half of the money was raised by schools in Motherwell Diocese, as they accounted for £54,000 of the total amount. Some four years later, they still led the way, raising some £61,000 for the missions. Among those the Scottish children helped in the year of that milestone were schools in Columba and Haiti, clinics in Liberia and poor children in Sierra Leone and Laos.
While concrete fundraising from Catholic schoolchildren is always welcomed, sometimes we’ve had to call upon our children to help us in more inventive ways and it’s a call they’ve answered enthusiastically.
In 2005, children at St Bride’s Primary School in Cowdenbeath helped Missio Scotland launch a new hi-tech initiative, offering them the chance to go on a ‘virtual mission.’ The project saw children encouraged to go on a mission, with each class being issued with a backpack of resources to help explore Ghana, the focus country for that year. The pupils were also issued with a CD-ROM, which took them on a virtual tour of the African country and helped them to better understand the mission projects there and also the needs of the children in Ghana.
Missio Scotland’s former National Director, Fr Pat McGuire, read out a message to the schoolchildren that day from Fr Patrick Byrne, the then Secretary General of Missionary Children. In it he stated: “The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has entrusted me with the task of looking after Missionary Children throughout the world. We are delighted to see that Missionary Children in Scotland are taking the work a step forward and that you are being challenged to go on a mission journey.
“Pope Benedict XVI and his bishops are delighted to have the children of Scotland as helpers in the task of preaching the loving message of the Gospel.”
Although I’ve only been in my post as Communications Officer for two and a half years too, during that time our pupils have been pivotal in helping us launch new fundraisers and materials. With regard to the former, Catholic schoolchildren helped us to promote our Mile For Mission sponsored walk fundraising initiative last year. Pupils from St Patrick’s Primary School in Coatbridge brought their enthusiasm with them to Albion Rovers FC’s Cliftonhill stadium in the town as we filmed a short video explaining the fundraiser.
The year 2017 also saw the launch of the first of our Missionary Saints materials, which aim to help our young people come to know these saints and help them to understand the Church’s mission of communicating God’s love to others in words and actions.
The resources have been endorsed by the Bishops of Scotland, who have asked that they be used in Catholic schools—particularly by children who are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation—while also suggesting that Missionary Children could particularly be the focus charity for those preparing for Confirmation. Pupils from St Gerard’s Primary School in Bellshill donned costumes of some of the saints who feature in the materials, bringing colour to a set of resources that will hopefully be used for many years to come!
Praising our children
It’s fair to say that Scottish Catholic schoolchildren’s support for their brothers and sisters in mission countries and territories has been literally life-saving and has seen them live out the Missionary Children motto of ‘Children Helping Children,’ down throughout the decades. Given that Missio Scotland is the most historic of Church charities that have operated in our schools and is also the default charity for our primary schools, we hope that the excellent support that they have given to us as a charity will continue for many years to come.
I’ll leave the final words of praise to our former National Director, Mgr Daniel Foley, who was fulsome in his praise of Catholic pupils in his 1990 World Mission Sunday message.
“It was with quiet pride that I listened last May as different national directors came from all over the world to say how wonderfully generous our Scottish children are,” he wrote. “There is something special in representing Scotland at such an international gathering.
“£100,000 from our schools is a tremendous total. Proportionately it is one of the best in the world and it is marvellous to see this common fund shared out in small doses to help as many people as possible. This year, the £100,000 from our children has gone to 40 different projects in Asia and four in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. It will be well used by missionaries who have longed for £2000 to start off or keep going, some small project in their parishes or convents. As a former missionary in the field I always maintain that small is beautiful and that small grants are treasured and used to get the most value out of every penny.
“For well over 100 years, the Missionary Children Society (formerly the Holy Childhood Society) has thrived in our schools. Our children and their devoted teachers have nurtured this tradition of children helping children through our Holy Father the Pope. He, in turn, gives the bishops and priests in mission lands who apply for aid each year for their different small projects. Long may this tradition last in Scotland that has gained us admiration and praise in so many different parts of the world.”
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