09/11/2013, 00.00
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Franco Cagnasso’s ' Gospel of dialogue '

by Piero Gheddo
In his latest book, Fr . Cagnasso , PIME missionary in Bangladesh for over 10 years , talks about his personal experience in a Muslim country as "son of the Second Vatican Council active in the field." It is not only a volume of " theological reflection " , but a "witness to the Gospel" marked by “missio ad gentes”, revolutionized by the Nostra Aetate . Based on dialogue with Bengalis , Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus who can help us understand " the wonders of the Holy Spirit ."

Milan (AsiaNews) - Among the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council ( 1962-1965) , the shortest but the most revolutionary is Nostra Aetate , which overturned the attitude of the Christian people and missionaries in their dealings with non-Christian religions . Then they were seen as the enemy of Christ to be fought, today we consider them a preparation for Christ, a wealth of peoples that the Church must come to know and accept with discernment, if we want to be truly "catholic" or universal and represent all the peoples of the world.

Nostra Aetate revolutionized the mission among peoples, although we are still in the early stages of its implementation. In the book "The Gospel of dialogue - by Sergio Bocchini " (Dehoniano Center , Bologna , 2013, p. 194) Father Franco Cagnasso , an expert on Islam who studied Arabic and has been a missionary in Bangladesh, after 18 years at the helm of PIME (from 1983 to 2001 , first as vicar general and then superior ), gives an interesting and important personal account of his experience in a Muslim country, as well as having visited dozens of other countries with other religions. The subtitle of the book ("Reflections of a Missionary, 50 years on from the Council") clarifies the content better. The Council and the first encyclical of Pope Paul VI (Ecclesiam suam , 1964) launched the idea of "dialogue " in guiding the primary mission of the Church to proclaim Christ to non-Christians.  This was such a rupture from the past: not only proclamation, the proclamation of salvation in Christ but also dialogue with all men and women to whom we are sent to tell the Good News. Father Franco, half a century later, expresses his thoughts and experiences with "The Gospel of dialogue."

It is therefore not a book of systematic theological reflections or framing of the issues that dialogue arouses in the missions and the young Churches, but a testimony of the Gospel preached in the experience of a man who has taken the formula of "dialogue " seriously. It deals with all the issues of the mission to the Gentiles , but in the spirit of "dialogue" , for this was and is his missionary life. Among other things, in Bangladesh Father Franco was the spiritual father and teacher of theology at the major seminary in every diocese in Bengali and built contacts of friendship with Muslims , Hindus and Buddhists, finding time, and economic aid, to "dirty his sandals" , so to speak, by helping the poor without idealizing them or humiliating them and exercising mission among immigrants to Dhaka from all over the country. He contributed to the foundation of a pastoral center (future parish) on the edge of the metropolis , which has 14 to 16 million citizens including many young tribal who after having converted to Christ in their villages risk losing their faith in the great metropolis if they do not find a church , a priest, a nun ready to welcome them.

The book is interesting because it helps the reader to understand and follow the life and mentality of a missionary son of the Council active in the field. It seems to me that these "reflections 50 years after the Council" indicate a precise direction . We missionaries have especially in mind that our mission is to proclaim Christ, witnessing to Christ , converting to Christ, founding the Church on Christ. We start from the Gospel , the Church , missionary Tradition, to reach out to non-Christian men and women, with our two thousand years of Christianity and theological culture . Then, the missionary knows his " sheep" , he or she is committed to helping the poor, pursuing his or her mission with all the tools at their disposal, catechesis , sacraments , reading and meditating on the Word of God, charity , education, etc. .

Franco Cagnasso , in the spirit of dialogue , realizing the abyss of misunderstanding that exists between him and the Bangladeshis, not only in language but in every aspect of life, illustrates another approach : he starts from the concrete experience of being man, which is so different in Bengal compared to Italy! He wants to get to know even his Islamic faith, to love, understand, share their problems and difficulties and enter into friendly dialogue with them, appreciating their human and religious values​​, in order to understand and be understood . Of course, remaining firmly attached to faith in Christ the Saviour and the reason why PIME (ie, the Church ) has sent him as a missionary to Bangladesh, but also opening up to others and to various human experiences and spiritual brothers and sisters that are found in non-Christian people.

The approach is different and browsing these pages I realize the complementarity of the two approaches. They are not alternatives but complementary and both equally necessary. It is not always easy to live them together, but they are mutually enriching . For this reason Father Franco Cagnasso's book deserves to be read and meditated upon also because there are really moving and convincing episodes described in the pages that open the heart and mind to understanding the "wonders of the Holy Spirit " , always in action in all men and all peoples, even when we do not realize it.

Let me conclude with two lines of "off the record", as they say. "The Gospel of dialogue - Reflections of a missionary, 50 years on from the Council" grasped my attention because I know both Father Franco and Bangladesh (in 2009 I wrote, "Mission Bengal ," the history of PIME in this country) , but also because in June 2013 ( without knowing of the other book) EMI published my latest book : "No ifs , ands or buts - Mission to the Gentiles from the Second Vatican Council to Pope Francis" ( EMI, 2013 , pp. . 250 ), which represents the traditional approach of "Missio ad gentes " . Father Franco offers his reflections and brings his experience as a missionary who believes in dialogue , I tell the story of the mission to the Gentiles in the last 50 years, and demonstrate , with concrete data , that the mission to the Gentiles is not waning, rather, it has a great future. "Missionary activity is only just beginning", states Redemptoris Missio (No. 30).

Many do not believe it, but reading the work of Father Franco will convince them otherwise. And perhaps , but God only knows , the future of mission will be precisely in this direction of "dialogue", because the Spirit never ceases to amaze and to invent new formulas throughout the history of mankind , "dummodo Christus annuntietur " writes St. Paul , " as long as Christ is preached " (Phil. 1 , 8) .


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