(Highlights, by Fr Aime Mitengezo, sx)
“I did not know I am a missionary. No one has ever told me before”, this was one of those beautiful and sincere confessions from a chat we happened to have with one lay person who attended the National Mission Conference, held in Tagaytay, last May 18 to 21, 2015, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vatican II Conciliar Decree “Ad Gentes”, on the Missionary Activity of the Church, and at the same time to prepare for the 500 Anniversary of the Evangelization of thePhilippines which will be in 2021. The Conference was attended by 361 participants, Bishops, Diocesan Mission Directors, religious men and women and a good number of lay faithful, coming from all corners of the country.From our Diocese of Novaliches we had four delegates: the bishop, a priest, a religious sister and a lay woman.
What is Mission? Clearing the Misconception.
It was not just a discovery of one participant, but his revelation mirrored a certain misconception of what Mission is. Mission has been usually linked to religious men and women; seen as going out of the country to unknown places; as something different from pastoral work; as consisting in collecting money on World Mission Sunday; as a kind of summer exposure for seminarians; as a series of projects for the sick, the poor, the orphan, the migrants and so on. One diocesan priest, in his talk, shared that in the seminary, students would not take seriously sometimes the course on Mission, because, they were told that they are to be “parish priests”, and not missionaries.
If all the above elements are manifestations of what Mission looks like, they are not the essence of Mission according to Ad Gentes Divinitus.
The Document reminds us first that Mission has its source in the inward and outward life of the Triune God (AG 2). As such it is God’s work, not ours. It is our participation in the “Mission” of the Trinity. This implies that we live our mission from our relationship with God, and that it is not about going to a place (geographical place), but it is entering human space, the peripheries, living in the frontier, not at the center, leaving the security behind and going into the lowest dark corners of the society, as we see the whole movement of the Trinity.
Mission is the very reason of the Existence of the Church, the Church in her completeness, which is all the faithful (the lay faithful together with the hierarchy). Without Mission, the Church ceases to exist, because the Church was born from and for Mission. [What is said for the Church is true also for a Diocese and a Parish].
From Mission Ad Gentes to Mission Inter Gentes
Though the theoretical level may be well articulated, at the practical level, many times, in the Mission Ad Gentes setting, the missionary is seen as the one commanding and the others have to obey; the missionary preaches and the others listen; the missionary dispenses the means of salvation and the others receive. But today we understand that Mission has to be inter Gentes.
In the Mission Inter Gentes setting, the missionary becomes a learner, a listener, a man/woman of silence, a companion on the journey.Thus a missionary, aside from being guided by God, of whom he/she is an ambassador, strives to know the people, their background; he/she makes every effortto know and observe the rules and taboos of the people he/she is journeying with.
It is in this Inter Gentes that one becomes open to the numerous possibilities offered by the Holy Spirit to Evangelize. Everything then can be an opportunity to Evangelize. There is an infinite divine creativity of the Holy Spirit that makes Mission ever new, valid and urgent at all times.
But the Holy Spirit needs the participation of all the Faithful, the clergy and the lay people. The document Ad Gentes Divinitus reminds us that to be alive, the church should have the lay people working with the Hierarchy (AG 21). A participant noted that sometimes Lay People feel that they are just servants, second hand partners in the Mission of the Church, tasked to obey and follow. He suggested that we use more the word “co-responsibility”, that is, we are all co-responsible for the Mission of the Church.
No matter the state of life, in the church, all are called to get involved in the Mission, in all the dimensions of Mission and Evangelization, namely: Christian witness, Preaching the Gospel, Human promotion and social transformation, Dialogue, Prayer (inspired and nourished by the Holy Spirit) and formation of a Christian community rooted in people’s real life.
Celebrating 50 years of this Document and the examination of our Missionary Discipleship:
The theme of the conference was “Gifted to Give”. This can be interpreted at the personal, community or ecclesial level. However, as far as the Philippine Church is concerned, this has a very deep significance as we are preparing to celebrate the 500 years of the Evangelization of this Country. It is a privilege to be distinguished as the largest Catholic Christian Country in Asia, but it is also a call to Mission. Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, in his message to the participants to the National Mission Conference wrote: “May the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Conciliar Decree Ad Gentes of the Second Vatican Council help reinvigorate your impetus to share to other people the joy of living the faith especially in Asia.” He continued by reminding what the Pope Francis had highlighted during his visit here in the Philippines: “you are called to build bridges, to pasture Christ’s flock, and to prepare fresh paths for the Gospel in Asia at the dawn of a new age.”
For this to happen, as suggested also by the decree of the Council of Vatican II, there is a need to promote Mission formation, not only in Seminaries but also in Schools, in Parishes, everywhere; to create a “culture of mission” in the Church, so that more Catholics will be aware of their call to be Missionaries and commit themselves to Evangelization, and set the world on fire. The participant who said that he was unaware of his being missionary prior to this Conference, had just accepted to go for a trip to Kenya, where he will stay for some days in the area where recently the fundamentalist Muslims killed mercilessly Christian Students at a Campus. Set on fire by the National Mission Conference, he was enthusiastic and saw the trip with new eyes, that he was sharing in the Mission of God, that he was going to be a witness to the love of God there, not just a visitor or a tourist.
The document has also invited each local Church to take care of its Missionaries and if necessary to have structures for renewal and formation, it says: “The heralds of the Gospel lest they neglect the grace which is in them, should be renewed day by day in the spirit of their mind. Their Ordinaries and superiors should gather the missionaries together from time to time, that they be strengthened in the hope of their calling and may be renewed in the apostolic ministry, even in houses expressly set up for this purpose. (AG 24)
To have attended the National Mission Conference was a graceful moment for all of us participants, and we all hope that coming down from the mountain of Tagaytay, we have the duty to share what we have seen and heard and to be active agents of the mission of the Church. It was said that knowing the meaning of Mission implies deep transformation (AG 35), and we hope this will be true for all of us, Christians of this Country.