Danielle (’11 CSMA) and Vincent read stories about saints to their children in their home in Goa, India. They marvel as Aster and Avila, 3, and Mercy, just 9 months, embrace their lives as a missionary family through such stories.
“It’s so sweet,” Danielle wrote. “When we read them stories about various saints and we tell them that they were a missionary, [Aster and Avila] often respond, ‘Like we are!’”
Danielle and her husband joined Family Missions Company (FMC), a lay organization based in Louisiana, almost two years ago. They are the first family to be placed in India by FMC, whose primary charisms are to preach the Gospel and serve the poor.
The family lives in Old Goa, also known as the Rome of the Orient or the Rome of the East, which was built as the Portuguese capital in the 15th century. While there are hundreds of Catholic churches in the area, many are closing due to attrition. Many people, especially in the outlying rural areas, have never heard about Christ.
“The pope has said that the priority goes to those who have not had a chance to hear the Gospel,” Danielle said. “Two-thirds of our globe have never heard about Jesus,” which is why the couple spends a good deal of their time on discipleship-training retreats, visiting parishes and recruiting lay missionaries who speak local languages to spread the Gospel. Two women and one man recently have committed to full-time missionary work as a result of Danielle and Vincent’s efforts. “We hear from them that women ... approach them and say, ‘Please teach my children about Jesus,’” Danielle said.
India has not been without serious challenges. Despite the public declaration that freedom of religion may be practiced there, Christian persecution is a real danger, especially in more remote areas of the country.
And then there’s the poverty.
“There’s a true destitution that is heart-wrenching,” Vincent said. “In our faith, there is a preferential option for the poor. They are beloved in a particular way in the Lord’s eyes and we need to serve them in a particular way.”
Danielle added, “We are really challenged by Luke [18:22]: ‘Sell everything that you have and come follow me.’ We’ve tried to sell everything that we have and it’s really hard. We have American passports and family connections and education. We’ll never be without a home. We grapple with this reality that we are never going to be as poor as the poor.”
Even her small children recognize that reality in their way.
“As we were gathering things the other day to give away, [my children] asked if they could bring their favorite toys to ‘the children who don’t have any toys to play with,’” Danielle said. “They also don’t have the social lenses that we’ve learned to develop. They still smile at the homeless man with no teeth and the little girl with disfigured hands. They try to talk to the women here who sweep the streets even though they don’t share the same language. They see people for who they are and don’t label or categorize them. It’s really beautiful.”
Their family, who survives entirely on donations, has seen God’s unfailing provision on many occasions. In one particular month, after they had given away their monthly stipend to help someone else, they had two weeks remaining without funds. So, they prayed together as a family. Later that morning a man they had never met brought them an envelope filled with cash.
“He just handed us an envelope and said, ‘I think what you guys are doing is great, have a good day,’” Vincent recalled. “It was enough money to last us the rest of the month. We have never been wanting. ... The Lord always shows up; he always delivers.”
A Right to the Gospel
While Danielle works to make their home hospitable to visitors, one of Vincent’s primary posts is at the Basilica of Bom Jesus (literally, “Good” or “Holy Jesus”), a Jesuit, baroque church that houses the remains of St. Francis Xavier.
“I’ve spoken with Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and atheists,” he said. “They ask straight out, ‘Who is your God, who is the Christian God? ... Oh, Jesus, I don’t know anything about Jesus. Tell me about Jesus.’ It’s a beautiful opportunity that we don’t often get in the States.
“There’s an openness especially among the poor,” he added. “There’s a receptivity that we cannot ignore. We need to give them their right to hear the Gospel.”
Danielle credits her time in the CSMA program for informing her current role as wife, mother and missionary.
“Many of the things I studied [here] taught me how the [Catholic] Church has fought for the dignity of all peoples,” Danielle said, “and we see that in the Western world in a lot of ways that just don’t play out in India. ... Instead, we see the caste system very much at work. We see cows being given more freedoms than human beings. We see women really being persecuted.”
Danielle and Vincent study church documents with local students. A favorite that stands out is Redemptoris Missio, especially paragraph 90, “the true missionary is the saint.”
“The world doesn’t need Vincent and Danielle,” Danielle said. “It needs Jesus. We need to be filling ourselves with him and conforming ourselves to his will every day so that we can pour out His love to each other, our children and the people we’ve been called here to serve.”