Mission is the work of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit assumes and seeks human collaboration. Therefore mission always comes about and develops in a particular socioreligious context. Catholic missions in and from the United States of America are no exception.
The American Setting
The United States is a leader in many ways:
* in racial integration, welcoming immigrants of every extraction and giving them citizenship;
* in the exercise of personal and group freedom, including that of religion;
* in the economy, producing wealth and work, spreading worldwide;
* in scientific and technological progress, attracting the greatest experts in the world and finding new ways of doing things;
* in modern social communications, exporting its film productions and its various news networks and giving rise to a globalized culture.
For many of these reasons American society appears as a precursor of the emerging world that is globalized and pluralistic. Many of these manifestations can be considered not only as human achievements but also as God's gifts.
The religious impact of the United States in the world is a recent and important fact. The Christian churches of evangelical and charismatic tradition have a widespread and dynamic impact both within the country and worldwide. They have a clear missionary thrust for spreading the Gospel. The attention given by these churches to immigrants of whatever origin has always borne fruit in conversions and in the establishment of Christian communities. American political and cultural presence in other countries, especially in Latin America, has helped their missionary activity. The military regimes in the 1970s and 1980s supported their growth as part of a policy of diminishing the impact of the Catholic Church. In different countries many people looked, and still look, at the Unites States as a country formed of Protestant communities that were able to give rise to the socioeconomic progress of society. Aided by these attitudes, the Protestant evangelical missionary movement found expression in a variety of humanit arian programs that were normally accompanied by evangelical and ecclesial proposals. Among the characteristics of Protestant missionary efforts have been involvement of the laity in short- and long-term projects, communication between the receiving community and the benefactor, and various forms of partnership. One notes this dynamic approach also in the development and teaching of missiology in the seminaries and in the sending of missionaries for various periods of time.
The Catholic Church in the United States is generous in its financial contribution to the missions. Many American men and women have served with great generosity as missionaries in many countries. In general, however, the missionary impact of American Catholics is less visible, both abroad and within the country among new immigrants. The reasons are ambiguous. It is difficult to discern whether this lessened impact comes from attitudes that are more cautious, or from a certain fear or inferiority complex, or from a concentration on the needs of its own community.
The history of American Catholics, who came from the four winds and who have had to insert themselves into a markedly Protestant society, perhaps explains a tendency to retreat into themselves. The church had to take care of its own communities and help them become part of the country; its first priority was not missionary expansion. The time has now come, however, for the Catholic Church to be more committed to the mission ad gentes and to have a missionary approach in all her activities within the country and elsewhere. There are many signs that the church is moving in this direction.
To Whom Is Mission Directed?
The Second Vatican Council described Christ's church as missionary "by its very nature" (Ad gentes [AG], no. 2), but that does not mean that her every activity is equally missionary and that every situation has the same urgency and missionary value. …