This July, nearly a dozen young adult missionaries from the Archdiocese of Washington participated in the second ever week-long popular mission in St. Joseph’s Church in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland, a parish staffed by the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE) and served by our sisters (SSVM). The volunteer group consisted of seminarians from the St. John Paul II Seminary, teachers from local Catholic Schools, college students, employees of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center, and an American IVE priest from the Province of the Immaculate Conception. Several members of the group were returning missionaries who had also participated in the 2013 IVE Iceland mission.
Life of Prayer for the Lay Missionaries
Each day we began with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament followed by Holy Mass in order to offer all of our evangelization efforts to Our Lord as well as to beg Him to bring our efforts to fruition. After a quick breakfast, six groups of missionaries took to the streets of Hafnarfjörður with hopes of bringing the Gospel joy to both the active parishioners as well as the lapsed Catholics of St. Josefs Kirkja (St. Joseph’s Church).
New Evangelization: Taking the Gospel to the Streets
Most mornings, the missionary groups dedicated to home visits were each able to speak to two to six families, inviting them to the mission, discussing the faith and offering simple house blessings. The majority of the houses were Filipinos or Polish families with a few Icelanders interspersed therein. Although we were able to use English with the Filipinos, with the Polish and Icelandic Catholics, we sought the translation help of the hard-working team of IVE/SSVM missionaries who work permanently in the mission in Hafnarfjörður. It is not possible to recount all of the personal encounters, but a few experiences have left lasting marks upon our memories.
Small Moments of Grace
One woman warmly welcomed use into her home and after some brief introductions, we asked if she’d like her house blessed. After the blessing, she offered us coffee and chocolate and we began a simple conversation with the woman, who had been away from the Church for some time. In the course of the conversation, nevertheless, she revealed that lately she has had the recurring thought that she needed to return to the church. Seizing this evangelizing opportunity, we invited her to the mission, to consider going to confession, and to return to a regular participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We were also able to speak briefly with her 18-year-old daughter before the end of our short but powerful visit.
During our lunchtime reports about the house visits, none of the six missionary groups mentioned any obvious, dramatic conversion moments, but each group, nonetheless, provided an opportunity for our fellow Catholics in Iceland to renew and re-embrace the life of Gospel joy rooted in a relationship with Christ.
Afternoon Oratory for Children
After a short period of preparation time every afternoon, the laughter and enthusiasm of thirty to fifty children permeated the place of our mission oratory for three and half hours. On the sunny days, which were few and far between, we walked to a local school yard for games and fun outdoor competitions; when rain prevented us from being outside, we went to a nearby recreational facility’s gym.
After playing for a while, we gathered everyone together for a catechetical talk centered around our theme of the Holy Family and presented by different members of our mission team. Talks on suffering in the family, filial love, forgiveness, freedom, responsibility introduced the children to the topics of the day and segued into different corresponding craft activities. By God’s grace and despite our lack of knowledge of the Icelandic language – which most of the children preferred –each afternoon was filled with an abundance of Christian joy and fun. We have entrusted the preservation of their purity and innocence to Our Lady, who will draw them ever closer to her Son. White it is most likely that we’ll never see any of those little ones again here on earth, we look forward to the perpetual and perfect Oratory of Heaven, where we may all be united with Our Lord forever.
Sacraments in the Parish
The parish will see some of the fruits of this mission in the coming weeks and months, in fact, we were even able to see some tangible fruits: the baptism, confirmation, first confession, and first communion of five of the children. Nevertheless, as humble and unworthy workers in Our Lord’s vineyard, we also know that we will probably remain ignorant of the majority of the effects of our efforts to evangelize this small town of Hafnarfjörður.
We are so grateful to the parishioners of St. Joseph’s who graciously welcomed and provided for us. Once the mission was completed, we took two days to explore some of the natural wonders of Iceland: a waterfall hike, cliff viewing, crevice exploration, glacier climbing, and cave touring – what an adventure. Que viva la Missión!
Sister Marie Notre Dame de Bon Secours, SSVM
Missionary Childhood Association, Office of Missions
Archdiocese of Washington, DC