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Religion Today Blog Christian Blog and Commentary

Claire Giangravé

Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Catholic missions are struggling amid dwindling vocations and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released by the Vatican ahead of the World Mission Day this Sunday (Oct. 18).

The number of priests and ordained leaders has dropped significantly, especially in Europe and America, according to the report issued on Friday by the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, charged with distributing clergy and coordinating missions around the world.

The total number of priests in the world decreased to 414,065 in 2018, with Europe registering a drop of 2,675 priests compared to 2017. The report also reveals a slight decrease in the number of Catholic faithful in America, Europe and Oceania. Meanwhile, Africa and Asia continue to show signs of growth, according to the data.

“We mustn’t be afraid! Mission goes on thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit,” said Archbishop Protase Rugambwa, the secretary of the evangelizing congregation, during a press conference at the Vatican on Friday.

However, the diminishing number of clergy coincides with an increase in the global population, putting pressure on priests who must minister to larger numbers of people. As of December 2018, the report shows, there are 1,328,993,000 Catholics in the world.

As a result, there are an average of 14,638 faithful per priest. This shortage of priests combined with a growing population have put a strain on evangelizing and missionary efforts globally.

The number of women leaders has also experienced a decline of 7,249 sisters, a drop similar to the one reported in 2017. Once again, the data shows, Europe and America have experienced the most significant decrease in women religious.

The number of seminarians declined, especially in America and Europe. In particular, minor seminaries for high-school-age individuals wishing to become priests has dropped for the third consecutive year everywhere except in Asia.

The reasons for the steady hemorrhage of Catholic clergy worldwide are varied, from secularization to the church’s ongoing sexual and financial scandals. But the COVID-19 pandemic has also created a challenge for donations after closing churches and stalling missionary efforts.

“The biggest challenge that many churches in mission territories had to face was church closures and therefore the lack of celebration and the resulting lack of collection at Mass,” said Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, at the press conference.

“As you can easily imagine, many of these ecclesial realities rely solely on Sunday offerings and don’t have a centralized system of support,” he added.

In order to ease the financial struggles brought on by the pandemic, Pope Francis created an emergency fund for missions worldwide, comprising $1,299,700 collected globally, used to sustain more than 250 missionary projects.

Most of the money was sent to local dioceses for the support of priests, Dal Toso explained, as well as Catholic communities, schools and struggling family units.

While the number of clergy might be declining globally, the presence of lay missionaries is on the rise. The number of lay Catholic missionaries has grown by 20,388, to a total of 376,188, primarily in America and Asia.

The number of catechists (lay leaders who teach the basics of Catholicism, mostly to children), while showing a downward curve globally, experienced positive growth in Africa and Asia. On the American continent however, the number of catechists dropped by a whopping 40,846 people.

The theme of this year’s World Mission Day, which falls on Oct. 18, is “Here am I, send me.” Its purpose is to highlight the missionary efforts led by the Catholic Church and organize events globally to promote donations. This year, due to the pandemic, the events will for the most part take place virtually.

In his message for the global Catholic event, Pope Francis acknowledged that “understanding what God is saying to us at this time of pandemic also represents a challenge for the Church’s mission.”

“In this context, the call to mission, the invitation to step out of ourselves for love of God and neighbor, presents itself as an opportunity for sharing, service and intercessory prayer,” he added.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©RNS/AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

(RNS) — First the tents went up in Cremona, Italy. Then New York City. 

And now in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.

It’s been a busy year for Samaritan’s Purse, the humanitarian relief organization led by Franklin Graham. On Thursday (Oct. 15), the group announced it was deploying a field hospital to Nassau after an increase in COVID-19 cases had overwhelmed the local health care system.

Plans call for a 28-bed field hospital and a team of doctors and nurses trained in infectious diseases to partner with Nassau’s Princess Margaret Hospital and the Bahamian Ministry of Health.

Samaritan’s Purse said the request for the field hospital came from the Bahamian prime minister in response to medical facilities that are filled to capacity.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to the Bahamas. The nation, made up of hundreds of small islands, has had 5,100 cases of COVID-19, with about 480 new cases in the last week. It has reported 109 deaths as of Thursday.

Samaritan’s Purse has been in the Bahamas before. After Hurricane Dorian hit last year, the organization opened a 40-bed field hospital on Grand Bahama. It also opened a country office in the Bahamas to meet ongoing needs for clean water and the rebuilding of homes damaged by the hurricane.

The organization’s field hospitals are made up of a series of portable tents wired for electricity, heating and water. In New York City, the field hospital included a fully staffed pharmacy and lab and intensive care unit beds with ventilators. The field hospital treated 191 patients — mostly in the month of April when the city experienced its worst surge of cases. It was dismantled in early May.

A smaller, 30-bed field hospital was airlifted to King Salmon, Alaska, in June, but was never deployed.

The first field hospital set up by Samaritan’s Purse was deployed in 2016 in response to the earthquake in Ecuador. The organization also set up an emergency field hospital about 12 miles from Mosul, Iraq, during the 2016-17 battle for the city.

“Hospital staff are overwhelmed and exhausted as the number of coronavirus patients in the Bahamas reaches an all-time high,” Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement. “Our teams respond to the hard places in Jesus’ Name; this is the right place to go to make a difference in the lives of hurting families.”


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: Franklin Graham's Facebook

The shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child bring hope to kids who desperately need to feel God’s love. But during this time when the coronavirus pandemic is making it nearly impossible to just go to church, it’s even harder to get these boxes filled. Here’s how to keep hope going strong during COVID-19.

2020 has been a difficult year. COVID-19 has disrupted daily life for just about everyone. It’s even shut the doors of many churches — for some temporarily and others permanently.

“The disruptions related to giving, and maybe even as important to all that, is that even for those churches that have reopened, they’re seeing much smaller numbers of people show up,” says Barna President David Kinnaman. “So simply reopening a church doesn’t fix the underlying economic challenges that you might have.”

Samaritan’s Purse relies heavily on donations and volunteers to fill the shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. And churches supply many of these volunteers, as well as host large packing events. So, with COVID-19 taking its toll on churches, it threatens to hurt the efforts of this vital mission, too.

No Operation Christmas Child means no Christmas for children who have already been affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine, and disease. 

But we don’t have to let COVID ruin the efforts of Operation Christmas Child! There are still many ways to safely fill those shoeboxes during the pandemic in time for National Collection Week: November 16–23, 2020.

Why Packing A Shoebox Is So Important

The shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child are filled with things like small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies. These are items so many of us take for granted, yet mean the world to the children receiving them. And as the shoeboxes are distributed, local believers share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with children.

WATCH: The Joy Of Shoeboxes For Operation Christmas Child

The joy these boxes bring to the kids is immeasurable. It’s a tangible way for them to feel God’s love. And the experience can literally change lives, inspire hope, and lead to God’s salvation.

In fact, that’s exactly what a shoebox from Operation Christmas Child did for a young man named Karabo from South Africa.

Testimony About Shoebox From Operation Christmas Child

Karabo was just 5 years old when he lost his father. Soon after, his mother abandoned him, leaving him in the care of his Grandmother. Karabo’s Grandmother took over raising him and started teaching him about God.

But then, Karabo’s biggest fear came to pass.

The young man’s Grandmother passed away. A year later, his mom died, too. And now, Karabo found himself alone and an orphan — the thing he had always feared most.

A friend in the city invited Karabo to a church where they were handing out shoeboxes from Operation Christmas Child. And it was there that Karabo experienced the love of God when he needed it most.

“That shoebox filled one of the holes in my heart,” Karabo recalls. “I had lost everything. So, the gift of the box gave me that hope — this belongs to me. And it really filled my heart.”

That event also nurtured the seed of faith Karabo’s Grandmother had already planted as she raised him.

“I realized God gave me what I was always in need of. I made a choice to personally seek Him,” he says.

Today, Karabo is confident in His Savior’s love for him. He also has a family and is no longer an orphan. And it all took root because of the shoebox he received through Operation Christmas Child.

“I’ve had a long of people tell me I’m lucky,” he says, “but I tell them I am chosen.”

WATCH: Karabo’s Story About His Shoebox Moment

Karabo’s testimony is not unique. Operation Christmas Child has been operating since 1993. And in that time, over 168 million children in more than 100 countries have received gift-filled shoeboxes. And the impact these boxes have on the kids who receive them is extraordinary.

Now, in 2020, Operation Christmas Child faces a new challenge — COVID-19.

Filling a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child is especially crucial this year, as the children this mission serves need joy now more than ever. They need the hope only Jesus Christ can bring.

Thankfully, there are still plenty of ways to safely support Operation Christmas Child during these uncertain times.

How To Pack Shoeboxes For Operation Christmas Child During COVID-19

Samaritan’s Purse isn’t letting COVID-19 stand in the way of sharing the Gospel with girls and boys around the world. They have modified their collection process for 2020 with safety in mind.

The National Collection Week for shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child will be November 16–23, 2020. Here’s how you can safely participate in the midst of COVID-19:

  • Traditional Packing: If you are willing and able, the traditional method of packing a shoebox is still available. You can even utilize things like online shopping/curbside pick-up to help reduce the time spent at stores. But if you do leave your home to shop for your shoebox, just be sure to follow proper social distancing guidelines. You can either drop your shoebox off at a participating church or find a nearby drop-off location HERE.
  • Virtual Packing: Prefer to stay at home? No problem. You can now pack a shoebox online. A few clicks will allow you to select toys and other fun items for your box, as well as include a letter and photo to delight the heart of a child. You’ll even be able to Follow Your Box to see where in the world it ends up!
  • Donating: Is packing a shoebox not your thing? No worries. One of the simplest ways to help is by making a donation. You can find multiple ways to give HERE.

COVID-19 has already robbed us of so much. But we don’t have to let it rob these precious children of their Christmas. Filling a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child during COVID-19 is an amazing way to keep hope alive!

You can go HERE for even more information about Operation Christmas Child. And learn all about the journey of a shoebox HERE.

“He who has pity on the poor gives to the Lord, and the Lord will give him his reward.” Proverbs 19:17

WATCH: More Than A Shoebox

LISTEN: Drop the Blanket | The Moment You Never Noticed in A Charlie Brown Christmas

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Choreograph

Article originally published by GodUpdates. Used with permission.