The mission means announcing Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Church was created for the mission. Missionaries are contemplatives in action (see John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, ch 8, n.49). This premise shows us the way, the family and the means of mission. The mission is announcing Jesus Christ, strongly asserting, proclaiming and calling him. We cannot just make the best by being present in the great market of religions (only) offering values, culture, and knowledge like others. We believe in and want to share our faith. “Jesus Christ is the saviour of men, the only way to salvation”. We know that believers of other faiths do not share our faith and we respect them, but we cannot hide what we assert as the truth. For us, Christ is the truth!
This said we believe in dialogue with the representatives of the other great religious and spiritual traditions, at an academic level, in daily life, in charitable work and social cooperation.
In his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI writes that volunteer work represents a school of life. The Holy Father speaks about those who dedicate themselves with generosity to humanitarian missions within and without our Church. He is happy about it and congratulates them. Their work builds a culture of life, which the Pope opposes to a culture of death (i.e. drugs, etc.).
Numerous exchanges and meetings occur in academe. Such conferences are very important and useful.
Religions have an important place in the social life of our contemporaries. They are a factor of peace and social harmony if they are not led away from their purpose, which is to connect man and God. Man does not live of bread alone. We know very well that all civilisations are mortal. Man’s quest for meaning and his spiritual thirst have always existed, at all times and in all places. Christianity has shaped Europe the way Buddhism has shaped the Asian continent. To deny such self-evident truths would be nonsense and an anachronism, something that a sound notion of secularism would not justify.
If the mission means announcing Jesus Christ, then we are all missionaries, an assertion that we have often heard. Likewise, we are all contemplatives just because we pray!
There are missionary institutes that specialise in training missionaries and sending them to the mission because, like the monastic vocation, the missionary vocation has its own traits. What are they? Typically, the missionary vocation is based on three pillars:
- ad vitam
- ad gentes
- ad extra
Ad vitam: Missionaries leave on mission for life. They give their life to the Lord and accept, in following Him, a life on the move like that of Jesus, who did not have a stone on which to rest his head. Such a life and such a spirit of missionary adventure are not unique to the founders of the Missions Étrangères in the 17th century like Mgrs François Pallu, Pierre Lambert de la Motte, and Ignace Cotolendi, who died in India on his way to his mission.
In the 21st century, we are called to experience this life and uncertainty. Many Asian nations are closed off to missionaries because of politics, fanaticism or religious intolerance. We cannot wait to have permission to come in, for the mission is urgent!
Ad Gentes: The vast Asian continent is home to 4 billion people, and our Church can claim only 2 or 3 per cent of Asia’s large masses. Except for the Philippines and East Timor, which are Catholic countries, the Church is in the minority everywhere else. It is more so because it is not present in Asia’s media and culture. Unlike in Europe, in Asia, architecture, music, literature, traditions and customs are foreign to Christianity. However, Asia is strongly bound to influence the world of tomorrow. In the concert of nations, it is clear that big nations like China and India will play a major role in creating a new world order. How can our Church overlook this challenge?
Ad extra: The missionary that leaves his country must not export France, Portugal or any other European country. He must make an effort to learn the language and traditions of the countries of Asia (see the Instructions of Pope Alexander VII to the founders of the Missions Étrangères de Paris). The missionary shall wed the country whose language he must learn. In this life, he shall be associated with the joys and sorrows of that country and its inhabitants in order to announce Christ, lay the foundations of a new Church or put himself in the service of an already existing Church. He must make an effort, with humility and joy, to become close to the people to whom he is sent. The missionary does not sign a contract for a fixed time; he is neither an expatriate nor a tourist. He belongs to a body, that of the Church, which has no boundary but the one set by the boldness of its apostles, put under the breath of the Holy Spirit, the lead character in the mission.
In the Year for Priests that just ended, how can we not rejoice of the fact that young people in our country and in our European continent are discovering a vocation to serve the Church; how can we not rejoice for the men who live their vocation as priests and missionaries, far from known shores, who accept the vulnerability that foreign missionaries experience throughout their life; how can we not rejoice when young Catholics leave for Asia as volunteers for our Church and a number of them, serving their fellow men whilst serving the Church, find the meaning that can nourish their life and discover that the secret of happiness lies in giving oneself! You made us for Yourself, Lord, and our hearts shall not rest until they dwell in You.
* Superior General, Missions Etrangères de Paris