PIME in China: new men in new facilities
by Piero Gheddo
The mission in China is possible. It should focus more on educational facilities. Old and new martyrs offer a role model. Here is a commented review of a letter the PIME superior general sent out to his confreres after a trip to China.

Milan (AsiaNews) – After five years in India and 15 in Japan, Father Ferruccio Brambillasca from Agrate Brianza (Italy), was elected PIME Superior General in 2013. Since then, he has visited the missions where the Institute is present. In June, he was in China, where he travelled to the six dioceses PIME founded between 1858 until 1949 when Mao took power in China. The first of these was in Hong Kong; the other five are in the mainland.

In a letter to his confreres, Father Ferruccio says that China is going through a time of great change. "It is interesting,” he writes, “that in China, the Church does not need missionaries who can build large structures or under take unsustainable projects; instead, it requires missionary educators in love with Christ, capable of building character. This means priests and religious and even lay people who know how to move their church and their charisma forward."

For Father Ferruccio, the presence of foreign missionaries "must be very discreet and unassuming, capable of proclaiming [the Word of God] quietly without seemingly changing anyone, and yet changing oneself and in so doing changing the reality around, including in China."

The Superior General does not go into technical details (how to get to China, what job to do. . .). he does however say, "I think that PIME still has something to say in China: not only in the big cities where a presence like ours is perhaps easier, but also in our ex-missions because the (even occasional) presence of any of us can be of help to the local clergy and religious (some women's religious institutes founded by our fathers are still in operation)." In short, "a small room for evangelical witness” exists in China, “one that is certainly not without its use."

Fr Ferruccio goes on to describe his visits to former PIME missions and the sites where Saint Alberic (Alberico) Crescitelli experienced his martyrdom (in 1900) and where six missionaries were killed during the world war in China and one in Hong Kong. Writing about them, he said, “Much of the trip in China was a real spiritual experience (almost a pilgrimage for continuous education. . .), which has definitely something to teach us all."

What do the martyrs and former missions in China teach us? First, from the start, our missionaries "were always attentive to local culture and customs when it came to their own clothes and the facilities they built." Secondly, the pastoral ministry in Christian villages was "founded on two cornerstones: community life and prayer."

This fact made an impression on Father Ferruccio. Where our missionaries went through their martyrdom nothing is remotely Christian is left. So, he writes, "I was wondering. What was their martyrdom for? Does such martyrdom have any value for evangelisation? What did the Institute ‘gain’ with our confreres’ martyrdom?" Such hard-hitting questions can, if viewed in the right light, "make us reflect seriously about our missionary life."

In September 2016, the Institute will hold its Plenary Council in Hong Kong, with superiors and representatives from every mission. Its task will be to examine PIME’s progress, stirring it towards a strong orientation for our personal lives as missionaries and the initiatives of evangelisation that are carried out.

We live at a time when it is not easy to understand what the "mission to the nations" is. The latter entails a Church that “goes forth” towards the poorest of people in every sense of the word, starting from their spiritual poverty. Indeed, it is the latter that led Saint Mother Teresa to say that “India’s greatest misfortune is not to know Jesus Christ." Although she was very busy helping the poor, she was involved primarily in proclaiming Christ’s salvation. Everything else followed from this.”

"Our martyrs in China (and beyond . . .) gave a precise answer,” writes Father Ferruccio. “They gave their entire life, with great faithfulness every day . . . The Institute serves the mission of the Church everywhere it is assigned, however insignificant it may be. We missionaries are fully involved with love and dedication for the people (who might be very few) who live in a given place and time. I, as a PIME missionary, “serve" the Institute and the Church when my words, projects and aspirations are in harmony with the full and sincere love the Institute dedicates to the times and places of its mission, even when this seems to lead to no actual result or does not change situations that are never likely to change."

As Father Ferruccio and his aides review all the topics in order to help missionaries reflect until next Plenary Council, they came up with the slogan ‘New men in new structures,’ which represents well our missionaries in China (as well as Algeria and other missions).

"To go back to the thoughts that began with this letter, this is what the Church and PIME need. Certainly, the martyrdom of Saint Alberic and other confreres in China helped me as PIME priest and many other confreres. Not so much because his martyrdom was something "glorious" for the Institute, but because it asked all of us the same fundamental questions, namely: how is our institute serving the mission of the Church, and how am I, as PIME missionary, serving the institute and the Church?

At present, we in the Directorate General are preparing the agenda for the next Plenary Council to be held in Hong Kong in September 2016. Briefly, in order to explain the main topic of the next Plenary Council, I think PIME needs new men who know how to listen a lot, who can learn the words that people we are responsible for can understand – words that can touch the heart of those who listen to us. These are not men who slander or offend the people with whom they work or live. Only missionaries with a new spirit can renew our structures (which are still too many and difficult to manage . . .), which need to be transformed through a new way of thinking about our presence and our mission.

At the end of the year dedicated to our Founder, following the example of Mgr Angelo Ramazzotti who was able to renew the Church with the idea of ​​the "ad extra" mission, I ask for the grace of renewal for our institute, not only "ad extra" but also "ad intra", so that we can all be "one thing" in living the mission the Church has entrusted upon us.

Despite its flaws, the Institute continues to serve faithfully the Church's mission. As PIME missionaries, can we say that we continue to serve the Institute and the Mission of the Church with an always renewed spirit? Good mission to everyone!"