What Mission? Mission in Europe and Universal Mission: Reciprocity, Partnership

By Ribet, Elisabetta | International Review of Mission, July-October 2006 | Go to article overview

What Mission? Mission in Europe and Universal Mission: Reciprocity, Partnership


Ribet, Elisabetta, International Review of Mission


A Christianity which has lost its vertical dimension has lost its salt and is not only insipid in itself, but useless for the world. But a Christianity which would use the vertical preoccupation as a means to escape from its responsibility for and in the common life of man is a denial of the incarnation.

Visser't Hooft, Uppsala 1969

My context: religious, conservative Italy

I think it is important to begin my modest contribution to this important discussion by describing the context in which I live and work. I am a pastor of the Waldensian and Methodist churches in Italy. I have been living in Palermo for two years now, and the parish where I work is a little parish in a suburb of Sicily's biggest city. We live on the border, in every sense of the word: Sicily is one of the points of entry for the illegal trafficking of refugees and others without papers; what is legal is often open to interpretation in this context; different cultures have made their way here, mixed and influenced each other from time immemorial. There is a clientelistic mentality that is often impossible to change and not easy to understand; the state is often perceived as a useless bureaucracy to be replaced by an unregulated system. The official Roman Catholic religion often takes the form of a secularized catholic culture, but it has a strong influence over the whole country's social, political and civic life.

One example: at the beginning of the summer of 2005, at the time of the referendum on stem cell research and experiments, Cardinal Camillo Ruini called on Italians to abstain and stay away from the ballot box so that the law on medically assisted procreation would not be changed. A quorum was not attained and so the referendum was annulled. The outright request to electors to give up their fundamental right to vote is a good illustration of the influence of the Catholic church. If the 'no' vote had won, it would not have changed the end result: the law would not have been changed. Several politicians who are practising Christians call themselves theological conservatives, and they are often pre-conciliar Catholics.

The Palermo parish of La Noce has around 140 members, Italians and Africans (francophone and anglophone), Waldensians, Methodists and Presbyterians from a Pentecostal or evangelical background. It is a small but very varied and complex group of people, with great diversity of ethics, ecclesiology, spirituality, etc.

Historic Protestantism in Italy: challenges, dreams, projects

I think that there are two things which have made a great contribution to reflection on witness, mission and missiology models in the Europe that we are creating: our presence at the grassroots and our relationship with immigrant Christians.

In the social, ecclesiastical and political context I have been describing, Protestants have been mostly a misunderstood minority in Italian history and often lumped together with the left, the anti-globalization movement and the << secularists >> a term which in Italian often means << of no religious adherence >>, or without faith, you could almost say 'dechristianized'. We therefore find it difficult to make ourselves understood, often defining ourselves in negative terms by things that we do not do or believe in, and emphasizing how we are different to Catholics and charismatics. It is often only then that we go on to say what we believe in and who we are in a positive, affirmative and non-polemical way.

For at least a decade, our churches have been reflecting on their own identity, their confession of faith and their ecclesiology, especially since our encounter or confrontation with immigrant Protestants. Legal immigrants come to Italy to work, as self-employed or waged workers, or for religious reasons or as refugees. It is more difficult, of course, to quantify the number of illegal immigrants, but in a week of fine weather and calm seas, between 150 and 300 immigrants arrive every day on the southern coasts of Sicily and Lampedusa. …

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What Mission? Mission in Europe and Universal Mission: Reciprocity, Partnership
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