Change and Its Effect on Mission and Church Relationship: A Roman Catholic Perspective

Article excerpt

I am grateful to the organizers of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) Pre-Assembly Mission Event for inviting me to share with you on the "Wind of Change: A Roman Catholic Perspective." Being myself a product of a missionary institute that brought the good news to many parts of Africa, I am an example, though perhaps not the best, of the fruit of the work of the missionaries. My interaction with other Catholic missionary groups has confirmed to me that the same Spirit is blowing through the broader community of missionary disciples of Jesus and that this is shaping the way we live and practice mission today. Things have, however, changed considerably between the time we joined as candidates and today, when we are full members participating in the missionary endeavour. Some of these dements were probably already there at the time but I now grasp them better from within and also from the perspective of a leader in the group.

My sharing will consider:

* the change in concept and practice of mission that I have witnessed;

* the importance of interreligious dialogue in mission today;

* the changes in the origins and destinations of missionaries;

* many people fishing in the same pond

Change in the concept of and practice of mission

As a missionary society that was founded in North Africa in 1868 by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, my religious community, the Missionaries of Africa, (1) is part of the movement of the missionary Catholic Church in the 19th century. At the time, the missionary agenda was clearly one of conversion of those who did not know Christ ("primary evangelization") in order to save souls for Christ. These persons were to be catechized, baptized and educated in the faith. Great sacrifices were made. Missionaries were very generous with their time and resources in learning languages in the new cultures that welcomed them. They realized that this was indispensable in order to share the message of the gospel with the people.

Today there is a growing awareness that there is more to evangelization than just announcing the good news of Jesus. It is a "single, complex reality." (2) Over the years there has been a growing awareness of the multidimensional aspects of mission. (3) Building on previous synthesis and reflection from Roman Catholic, World Council of Churches, Evangelical and Pentecostal perspectives, Stephen Bevans and Eleanor Doidge have offered the latest synthesis of the "six essential components of God's mission in which the Church is called to share." (4) These are:

Witness and proclamation (5)

These include individual witness, communal witness and institutional witness (6) as well as common witness of the various Christian traditions (as in the 1989 Manila Manifesto (7)). The witness is to a person (Jesus Christ), a message (the gospel) and a way of life (sometimes against the current) in a particular context. (8) In the proclamation we have to keep in mind that the Spirit of Jesus precedes us. Thus proclamation has to be confident, faithful, humble, respectful, dialogical and inculturated, (9) but, as John Paul II notes, (10) always an invitation and never an imposition, (11) acknowledging one's own weakness and vulnerability with bold humility.

Liturgy, prayer and contemplation

Personal and communal participation in God's life obliges us to reach out to the boundaries and to cross them. (12) Prayer and contemplation opens one up to the needs of the entire world. A contemplative attitude is deeply related to dialogue with God and with the world.

Commitment to justice, peace and integrity of creation (JPIC)

This commitment to JPIC is part and parcel of witnessing to and proclaiming the gospel as individuals, as communities and as an institution. This implies a holistic approach to evangelization--social, economic, political, environmental and human rights issues are important: they include fighting new forms of slavery, taking the "option for the poor" seriously through solidarity, praxis (analysis/action) and a simple lifestyle. …