When 190 people gathered in St. Francis Hall on May 1 for the 2015 World Care Benefit and Celebration, they expected to celebrate Franciscan Mission Service’s 25 years of sending lay Catholics on mission. No one, however, expected to be given drawing from a school in Guatemala or to be part of an impromptu sing-along about Pope Francis led by a high-ranking Cardinal.

Lifelong musician and head of the pontiff’s advisory council, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB ended his passionate keynote “Pope Francis and the Mission of the Laity,” by asking the audience to join him in a song of his own composition—in Spanish.

This excitement took an already joyful room to new heights, capping off an evening that radiated hope and inspiration. From a 25th anniversary retrospective video, to the presentation of a new young adult service award, to the honoring of a long-time partner, the evening lauded the importance of the laity in mission in the Franciscan tradition.

The Cardinal’s enthusiasm for the evening radiated through his voice and his frequent hand gestures. He emphasized the role of the laity as being more in contact with the problems the margins face, likening the laity to be “field hospitals on the front lines” of injustice, that everyone in attendance has a role to play in the new evangelization.

He also stressed the importance of being present in the communities in which we serve. “It’s the relationship and walking with people that makes all the difference,” Lynda Crone, FMS returned missioner (Thailand, 2004-2007), said. “And you don’t have to go on overseas mission to do that.”

To make sure the audience was up-to-date with the papal encyclicals and other church publications, Cardinal Rodriguez rhetorically asked several times who had read them, but people raised their hands anyway. The numbers were less than he had hoped, but he smiled and laughed, jokingly chiding the audience for not being up on the times and teachings of the papacy. “You are all two years behind,” he said jokingly.

You can hear Cardinal Rodriguez’s speech here:

FMS knows that we would not have reached this mission milestone without collaborators and champions. This year’s recipient of the 10th Annual Anselm Moons Award, Fr. John O’Connor, OFM, is a shining example of one of those partners. The award recognized not only his individual commitments and contributions, but those of Holy Name Province, one of FMS’ greatest supporters and where Fr. John served as provincial for nine years.

In his acceptance speech, Fr. John talked about the personal relationship he had the award’s namesake. Fr. John said that there are three role models that every Franciscan should embody: Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventure, and Friar Tuck.

First and foremost is Saint Francis, which shouldn’t be a surprise, for his willingness and enthusiasm for doing God’s will. Saint Bonaventure is a model for his willingness to learn and keep learning. Last, but not least, is the fictional Friar Tuck for his willingness to always do more. Anselm Moons, however, embodied all of these role models, Fr. John said, and celebrated having the privilege of learning from such an inspirational man.

To celebrate the importance of the laity in our church and organization, especially the youth, we were thrilled to present our first-ever San Damiano Servant Leadership Award to Emma Laut, a graduating biology student from Marian University in Indianapolis, IN.

As Cardinal Rodriguez stressed laying the foundations of mission for future generations, FMS board member Rebecca Lynes said the addition of the award to the evening “showcases the next generation of missioners and the role young people have in service and the great things they are doing.”

With her family looking up to her from the front row, Emma thanked those who helped her with all of her volunteer efforts, and encouraged other youth to be involved in their communities and not to be numbed by the negativity so often seen in the news.

“It’s fun for us to watch her grow in her faith,” Molly Laut, Emma’s mother, said. “[Emma] absolutely emulates the message of joy and a positive spiritual attitude Cardinal Rodriguez preached.”

This event was FMS’ most successful fundraiser to date, and we were honored to have in attendance Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, returned missioners, missioner partners, and representatives of most of our 23 event sponsors.