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Missionary Families, Leaven in the Church and Society


Entre Amigos – Opinion/Commentary

February 4, 2014

By Mar Munoz-Visoso

In one recent Wednesday catechesis (Jan. 15, 2014), Pope Francis reminded us that we are all missionaries in virtue of our Baptism. Jesus’ words to his disciples before ascending unto heaven constitute the universal mission of each disciple and each Christian community “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Numerous biblical passages show us that since the first days of the Church there is an intimate relationship between the mission and some homes or houses. I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Fourth American Missionary Congress held in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The assigned topic was “Ad-Intra and Ad-Extra Missionary Families” (inside and outside). I understand the concepts of “mission” and “missionary families” in their broader sense, we could say that the “being” of the family (communion) informs it’s action (mission) and, therefore, both communion and mission are inseparable realities.

Families are “ad-intra” missionaries in various ways. First of all, in the interior or the core of the family itself as the place of the first evangelization. The formation in the faith and values takes place, above all, inside the family. Parents are the first educators although in this task they are assisted (and often replaced) by grandparents, uncles, aunts, sponsors, and others in their extended families, especially in today’s labor and immigration realities. Within our family we teach one another, adults teach youth and children teach their elders.

We must also consider the mission of the family inside the Church. John Paul II said that the family is the way of the Church. A family that lives it’s faith as a domestic church gives witness to other Christian families; they are pillars and leaven in their own communities. These are families who reach out to other families of believers and encourage them to accept the challenge to participate in and build community together. These are families who evangelize, families who do catechesis, families who look after the spiritual and material needs of the local and the universal church. Families who promote vocations in the Church, in all their variety and scope: to the priesthood, to marriage, to religious and  onsecrated life, to the permanent diaconate, to lay ministry or lay apostolate.

But the family also has an important role in the ad-extra mission, or outside of itself and it’s Christian community. The family is the fundamental cell of society. And the Christian family is called to be the leaven of society. Families “preach” giving witness with their life and word to those who need the proclamation of the Gospel once again (or for the first time) in all its dimensions and with all its consequences. With their witness and social participation they make efforts to create a “culture of the family” (Letter to Families, John Paul II) and a more just and humane society.

We should also remember the role of the immigrant/emigrant family in the New Evangelization (World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Benedict XVI). Many immigrant families become de facto missionaries and often bring new life to the receiving communities. These families play a very important role in exile by bringing communities together and supporting them anchored in their faith and in prayer, especially, when there is no priest or religious to accompany those communities in their migration journey.  In this sense, apostolic movements such as the Charismatic Renewal, Cursillos de Cristiandad and others have supported and served as fertile ground for numerous “missionary families”. By reaching out to the Church, for a variety of reasons, many immigrant families reconnect with their faith in this new context through formation opportunities which they did not have or could not take advantage of in their country of origin. But once they discover a “new reason for hope” (I Pe 3, 15), they do not want to stop sharing the Good News with family members and acquaintances.

Finally, we have among us missionary families ad gentes: families who travel to other regions and countries to find other peoples and cultures usually through already established ecclesial structures and channels like religious communities and movements or societies for apostolic life. To mobilize entire families for an apostolic purpose requires a serious process of discernment, maturity, and preparation. But already many communities in the United States are receiving or sending families in mission. In the final message of the Missionary Congress it was very clear that Latin America, even though it is in the midst of its own process of a continental mission, accepts the challenge of forming missionaries for the Church in the world. Do we, Latin families in the United States, also accept a similar challenge?

The family is called to take on a very important role in the New Evangelization. Every parish leadership who values itself should reconsider its relationship with the domestic church (families) present in its territory and actively search more and better ways to strengthen them and turn them in the main characters of the universal mission.


Mar Muñoz-Visoso is executive director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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