At the opening Oct. 26 session of the United States Catholic Mission Association’s conference, hosted by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Mission Office, the 2012 Mission Award went to two Los Angeles-based groups: Lay Mission-Helpers and Mission Doctors Association, both founded by Msgr. Anthony Brouwers in the 1950s. To date, the two independent Catholic organizations have sent some 700 lay men and women (along with their families) to 36 mostly Third World countries — from Papua New Guinea to Cameroon, Thailand to Micronesia. There’s even some evidence that they were the inspiration for John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps established in March of 1961. The national award was presented to the Lay Mission-Helpers and Mission Doctors Association “in recognition for excellence, dedication and creativity in promoting mission and global solidarity.”USCMA’s president, Teresita Gonzalez, observed, “Within the United States and across the world, these two organizations have a rich history of embodying the mission spirit and helping hundreds of Catholics to follow their baptismal calling. Their commitment to the global mission of Jesus Christ makes them deeply deserving of this year’s Mission Award.”Bill Metzdorf, president of the Lay Mission-Helpers’ board of directors, said he was proud to accept the accolade “on behalf of the many lay missionaries who have chosen to witness their faith by serving the poorest among us. This wonderful award acknowledges their deep commitment to our founder Msgr. Anthony Brouwers’ philosophy that ‘We are all God’s helpers.’”Added MDA president Tom Liautaud: “For more than 50 years, the Mission Doctors Association has trained, sent and supported Catholic doctors who use the skills with which they have been blessed to serve people of all faiths at mission hospitals and clinics around the world. We thank USCMA for this tremendous honor and take this occasion to recommit ourselves to bringing health and hope to a world in need.” The program director of the Lay Mission-Helpers was all smiles after holding up the wood-backed plaque for a throng of amateur photographers. “I think getting the award is great,” Janice England, who served in Sierra Leone from 1989 to 1993, told The Tidings. “I mean, we’ve been around for over 50 years. And it’s even double special because it’s the year of Msgr. Brouwers’ 100th birthday. So it’s awesome.”Equally happy was England’s colleague Elise Frederick, executive director of the Mission Doctors Association, who served in Thailand from 1978 to 1981, and has worked for MDA for 31 years. “I think this award recognized the legacy of Msgr. Brouwers and our effort to continue to place laity in service to share their gifts and witness with their faith,” Frederick said. The three-day mission conference, held at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel, featured workshops, question-and-answer panels, exhibits and liturgies. The keynote addresses were “Listening to the Heart of God: The Mission of Interreligious Dialogue for ‘Renewed Solidarity,’” by associate professor Scott Alexander of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and “Transforming Dialogue” by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The former archbishop of Newark and Washington, D.C., said he had seen firsthand Missionary Brothers of Charity working with addicts in Harlem, Sisters in West Africa ministering to poor rural families, and laymen and laywomen here and abroad “showing what it is to be a Christian, a Catholic.” “But I’ve seen you in all those places,” he told more than 400 lay and religious missionaries at the opening dinner, “and I love you all for that. To do what you do, to open your lives up, how wonderful that is. Because the Church has to be a missionary church today and be missionaries in even better ways.” The retired cardinal also spoke about Islam and how a “transforming dialogue” must involve this great religion today, a religion which comes — like Christianity and Judaism — from the family of Abraham. He pointed out that Muslim leaders have stressed time and time again that violence and the killing of innocents is condemned in the Koran.“There is so much in Islam that is good,” declared Cardinal McCarrick. “So much that can be a blessing for us as individuals. So much we can learn from them: their teaching about one God, their respect for Jesus as the Messiah, their dedication to prayer five times a day, their fasting during Ramadan and their love of charity. “But the media never tells about this. They just talk about terrorists and suicide bombings. So we have to learn to relate to Islam,” he stressed, echoing remarks made by Catholic prelates at the Oct. 7-28 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization in Rome. Father Alexei Smith listened carefully to Cardinal McCarrick’s address from a side table in the hotel ballroom. The director of the archdiocese’s Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs had just returned from taking a dozen local priests to Turkey, with the objective of introducing them to Islam and dialoguing with Muslims. “What the cardinal was talking about is exactly what we were trying to do there for ten days,” he reported. “Some very prominent Muslim groups, like CAIR (Council on American Islam Relations) and Muslim Public Affairs, have issued faqihs or statements condemning suicide killings, but no one in the American press picks that up. “When did you last read in the Los Angeles Times about one of these organizations condemning terrorism? When I give talks about Islam to parishes, our Catholic people constantly say, ‘Well, why don’t their leaders condemn the violence?’ But they do. You just don’t hear about it.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1102/missionaward/{/gallery}