Pope Francis raised the profile of both the Pontifical Mission Societies and the missionaries themselves when he declared October, 2019, as the Extraordinary Month of Missions.

Missio-NZ national director Fr Bernard Espiritu, SVD, told NZ Catholic, although the organisation has been in existence for almost a century, it is not very well-known.

“It’s an old structure already in the Church, but is not so popular because it’s not given . . . exposure. However, it is important because it is really about care for the universal Church,” he said.

Fr Espiritu said people generally know they are donating to the missionary work of the Church.

“Kiwis are very generous,” he said, adding that last year, Missio-NZ was able to raise NZ$200,211 from the one public fundraising it conducts on Mission Sunday. This year, Mission Sunday fell on October 28.

However, matched with their own campaign, Missio-NZ was able to send NZ$491,490 to the various projects of young dioceses that need support.

Fr Espiritu explained there are four societies under the umbrella of the Pontifical Mission Societies. These are the Society of St Peter the Apostle, which helps in the training of young men and women to become religious sisters, brothers or priests in their own country; the Pontifical Missionary Union which helps in the formation of religious and lay missionaries; the Pontifical Association of the Holy Childhood (or of Missionary Children), a missionary outreach to children which is run through Catholic schools; and the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which enables missionaries to carry out their mission work.

Fr Espiritu explained that young dioceses in need would present their projects for funding to the Pontifical Mission’s screening committee in Rome.

All the projects that pass screening are included in a big book that is then presented to the general assembly.

“Once they are approved, we can choose our projects. I can choose from all those projects where our money will be going,” he said.

Fr Espiritu said the funds pass through Rome, but are sent directly to the “office of the nunciature of a particular country where the nuncio will distribute it to local ordinaries or the local bishops of the dioceses. Then it is given to those who are sponsoring the project”.

He said funds raised in New Zealand have gone to projects like assistance for religious education of children in Nauru, buying office equipment and Sunday school books for 150 children in Kiribati, construction of a dining area where children can be fed in the parish of Jesus, the Good Shepherd in Papua New Guinea.

“Some dioceses have schools, but they don’t have classrooms. They just meet wherever they can. So, we help them build classrooms,” Fr Espiritu said.

He added that Kiwi Catholics donating to Missio-NZ are helping support seminaries in Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and even Malawi.

Fr Espiritu said there is a faith and prayer dimension to Missio-NZ as well.

“We are doing this because we believe we should help them because of our faith. That’s the difference,” he said.