Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to take the Gospel to people that don’t know about Him? In our current era, it’s hard to imagine a way that one could live without hearing the name of Jesus, but there are still a vast amount of people that do no know Jesus.
Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tricia Bolle, from the St. Francis Xavier lay Missionary Society. Tricia, a graduate of Stanford, has been serving as a foreign missionary, primarily in Hong Kong, for seven years and has now founded the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society in hopes of spreading the Gospel to her brothers and sisters in Asia.
Interview with Tricia Bolle
This is a very unique apostolate with an aim for a unique audience. Most Catholics often think only professed or ordained religious can do mission work like this. What kind of confirmation did you receive that this is what God is calling you to do?
Towards the end of a study abroad program in Asia, the Holy Spirit begin leading people to cross paths with me on a regular basis who were seeking to know more about our Christian faith. Whether it was saying grace before a meal, reading my Bible in a park, or just being witness of God’s love for others by stepping out to help anyone I saw in need, people were coming to me with a curiosity about the Christian God and a deep longing to know the love of Jesus. Without even trying, I could barely pass a few days in Asia without someone asking more about my faith in God.
Upon returning to Stanford and sharing my experiences with others, I was encouraged by many Asian Christians to return to Asia to continue the “good work that Christ has begun in me.”
It took me a couple years of discernment, but when I began going back to Asia to serve as a missionary, the Lord repeatedly affirmed this calling for my life in numerous ways. As I began to open myself up more fully to trusting in God and His Providence to carry out this calling, the Holy Spirit began opening doors left and right to develop ministry opportunities in a myriad of ways that most people who have been active in mission never thought possible.
When I was later called to found the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society around Easter 2012, after having served in Asia for nearly five years, I was suddenly receiving an outpouring of encouragement and support from priests, religious, lay leaders, bishops, major superiors of Religious Orders like the Dominicans and the MIssionaries of Charity, and seminary rectors throughout Asia and within the U.S. Among those who offered their blessings and support early on, for which I am very grateful, are Bishop Patrick J. McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose, the Very Reverend Fr. Mark Padrez of the Western Dominican Province, Sr. Prema of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s successor), a papal nuncio to Asia, and Sherry Weddell and Fr. Michael Fones, OP of the Catherine of Siena Institute.
This, plus the urging of so many local Christians serving the Church in Asia to develop ministry programs and send well-formed missionaries in the spirit of how I had already been serving for many years in Asia, as well as the vision, love, and support of the Holy Spirit have all come together to give me a clarity about our vision and purpose like nothing I’ve ever before experienced.
What kind of reactions have you received when you tell people about your work?
It can be very mixed. Most people don’t really understand what I am actually doing. It is oftentimes difficult to gain support from the Catholic lay faithful. You see, most of us are taught that missionaries are either priests, sisters or Protestants–so the thought that all of us by virtue of our baptism are called to mission is often a hard sell and an entirely new concept to truly grasp. So when I give my talks, especially to young adults, it’s often the first time that they have ever been told that all Christians are called to mission in some way.
Many people are also surprised at the incredible success we’ve had in Asia because most don’t think that so much fruit could be possible through the labor of so few relying purely on the Providence of God. We spend about 95% of our time and energy devoted entirely to the mission, with only a tiny fraction actually fundraising, because the ministry and people’s whose lives we touch is too important, yet the Lord always provides just enough of what we truly need to be most efficacious in spreading His Word and His Love to others.
In this time when so many are rejecting the Truth of the Gospel, what do you find most inspiring about sharing the Gospel message?
Seeing how the Holy Spirit is able to transform someone’s life as they come into greater realization of the love and mercy that God truly has for them, regardless of their circumstance, and the special calling in life He has given them – that is a thing of beauty. It’s a real blessing to be such a special and integral part of someone’s journey of faith and discovery. To help someone on the path to sainthood; what greater calling is there than that!?
There is one young woman in my ministry in Asia who was baptized seven years ago. She once told me that before she met me she didn’t know of and had little experience with a loving God. The God she heard spoken about during homilies was a powerful and impersonal God who sacrificed a lot for our sins, undeserving wretches that we are, and therefore should be obeyed.
The God of joy, mercy, and peace was nowhere to be found. Yet she, like so many others, remained devoted in her faith. Discovering all these new dimensions of a loving, personal God has transformed her faith life and renewed her spirit of prayer. She has since discerned to enter the Order of Discalced Carmelites as a cloistered nun and devote her life to contemplative prayer. Thanks be to God!
The Gospel is needed everywhere. When there is a need for evangelization our own country and Church, why do you find it important to go to a foreign country?
We are all called to mission by virtue of our baptism. Most of us are called to serve as missionaries in our own backyard, sharing God’s love in our daily lives at home, work, school, or play: whether you’re a server at Whataburger or an office worker at Dell, or cheering your team on at the game or participating in a study group for school. We are all called to bring Christ’s love and light to everyone; this is a universal calling, not something for the ‘elite’ or ‘chosen.’ Yet a few of us feel a deep longing to reach beyond our comfort zone to live and serve God in a foreign culture rich with its unique blend of challenges and blessings.
There are those in foreign countries who are thirsting for the Gospel, a Gospel we too often take for granted here in the West, and I found myself uniquely equipped with my experience and the gifts of God to follow God’s call to serve His people in Asia. At the same time, when I’m not in Asia, I devote much of my time to serving here in the US, remaining active at my home parish at the Catholic Community at Stanford, and traveling around the country giving talks and teaching workshops to inspire other Catholics to become more engaged with their faith and seek out God’s calling for their lives. So whether at home or in Asia, I go where I can be of the greatest service to God in accordance with my gifts and calling.
What do you find to be the most dramatic difference in between our cultures here and in Asia?
It’s really hard to categorize Asia in any one way. You can walk down the streets of Tokyo or Hong Kong and catch a similar vibe as you would in New York or London. At the same time, there are a lot of people from parts of the Midwest who would feel closest to home in Cambodia, Fukui, or Sichuan. And the culture of people from these localities are similarly echoed. So to say that there is a greater emphasis on family in one part of Asia may not be true in another. Where one part of Asia is grateful for every morsel of Truth to aid in their faith formation, other parts have just as endemic a problem of “cultural Catholicism” as we do here in the US, not unlike what Sherry Weddell describes in her seminal work Forming Intentional Disciples.
At the end of the day, I am working to help others encounter the face of Christ. But there is a cultural sensitivity that is critical, an important aspect of missiology which was championed early on by Alessandro Valignano, SJ, the 16th century missionary to Asia whose experience in Japan transformed his view of how missions should be done so as to be appreciative and respectful of the unique cultures in which we seek to share the Gospel. What is that difference in 20 words or less? Experience and perspective of life and familiarity with the Christian faith. In the US, we take easy access to our Christian faith for granted. It pervades our society and culture. Whereas in many parts of Asia our faith wasn’t able to develop with the same level of historical continuity, breadth, and depth as it has in the West.
We all need community and our missions are most effective as a group. What kind of co-workers in the vineyard are you looking for in other young adults?
We are looking for those who feel God is calling them to serve with us on the ground in Asia for a minimum one-year commitment. In their service and devotion they become the hands and feet of Christ. These are individuals who feel the fire of the Spirit within them to share the life and love of Christ with all they meet and who have experience and are comfortable serving in a foreign environment. Moreover, these people are always seeking to grow in their faith and have the ability to take strong initiative and work independently in an unstructured environment
Yet whether you are called to serve overseas or not, we are all called to be involved and support those who serve in mission.
Those who cannot serve with us on the ground are able to support us through prayer and sacrificial giving, and to so be blessed as the early Christian communities were that St. Paul writes about in their support of him and his fellow missionaries. For our mission, to truly be successful, requires the entirety of the Body of Christ, not just a select few. In this sense, everyone is involved in the same vision of mission, with those at home supporting those on the frontlines. In this cooperative effort the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be able to reach countless more people so that we can grow the Body of Christ ever more and fulfill the principle mission of the Church in the world (Ad Gentes).
What do you find the most difficult about living as a missionary?
Finding support from home and support from Church because this is a newer concept in this Church of the New Evangelization. Also, greater humility and the need to place ever more trust in God as we face new challenges seeking to further grow our mission and touch more people’s lives throughout the world with the love of Christ.
What are some of the most noticeable graces you have received or noticed in your works as a missionary?
I feel like the apostle at the end of the Gospel of John when he writes of not enough books in the world could contain the graces I have been blessed to receive to serve in this mission. I really feel humbled and blessed by the way I have been equipped for this work through my experiences, character, talents, and gifts, and have had the opportunity to draw so close to God and feel so loved by Him as I seek to better follow His will for my life. The greatest graces are perhaps the following:
Extraordinary faith and trust in the love of God and His Providence for this mission and my life. Perseverance to withstand the many challenges – and they strike you in every way possible – that have come my way since devoting my life to Christ and His calling for my life in this way. Encouragement to help others realize the gift that they are, the way the Lord has blessed them and called them to a special calling and life of love, and to encourage and inspire them to pursue their calling and, in so doing, to realize their life’s purpose and reach their greatest potential – to become a saint.
Wisdom to find the right words and actions of comfort, love and support needed to help someone with whatever they are experiencing in life and to help them believe more fully in themselves and grow in their faith and love of Christ, including to evangelize those who do not yet know Christ and help them experience His love and lead them to His Church.
You can hear and see Tricia speak this week in the Diocese of Austin.
St. Mary’s, Texas A&M – Tuesday, January 27th
603 Church Ave, College Station, TX 77840
Plus, on Tuesday, she is doing an interview with REC-C in College Station at 9:20AM, and then with KACB from 11AM-12PM.