Christian identity is not about doing things but belonging to Christ. A strong commitment to migrants is purely sociological: no one offers them explicit witness and the announcement of faith. The testimony of the laity is fundamental to healing indifference towards God and towards others in society. Nurturing ad gentes vocations to live in "solicitude for all churches". Christians in Czechoslovakia, China, Vietnam for years in chains with the desire and the prayer to evangelize the world.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - We publish the third and final part of the reflection on the centenary of the Maximum Illud, for a resumption of the mission ad gentes and the "missionary transformation of life and pastoral care". Click here for Part One and Part Two.
What qualifies us is not our social commitments, but our witness to Jesus Christ in us, the love with which I approach the other person. A missionary, the Florentine Allegrino Allegrini, told me about the beginnings of his work in Japan. Especially after the Second World War due to the shock they had received, many Japanese wanted to convert, seeking comfort in the faith, both traditional and Catholic. And he, a missionary at the beginning, did not know the language well and gave catechism lessons, he would make mistakes and get angry and then correct himself. He made mistakes and corrected himself with every lesson. At a certain point, one Japanese lady said to him: "Father, you must not worry if you do not speak the language fluently. We have understood what really matters: that you love us and this is why we continue to come to catechism".
Mission is above all about bringing the joy of the Gospel, Jesus Christ to the world. This will overcome the tension between traditionalists and progressives, and will allow an integration of these two trends that are tearing the Church apart. It is in light of this that Pope Francis is asking us to rediscover Maximum Illud: To rediscover that Christian identity is not about doing things, but belonging to Christ, the person of Christ. The discovery of a passage from Saint Paul For me and for my vocation was important: "For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again"(2 Corinthians 5, 14-15). That is: the love of Christ has become so important, we have had such a powerful experience of it and embraced it strongly, that we can no longer live for ourselves, but our concern is mission, that people know this grace, this love.
In close connection with this emphasis there is another: it is urgent to reawaken the Catholic conscience of who Jesus Christ is, that he is the Savior of the world, the One who triumphed over death (his and ours). It is too easy to reduce Jesus to the figure of psychotherapist, a haven only in sad times; or to a distant memory that does not affect everyday life. The awareness that He is the salvation from death helps us to live the "field hospital" of the Church and the world with a hope that does cannot be corroded. Just like the Samaritan woman (John 4), we have found Christ the Savior of the world, and we feel compelled to communicate this to the whole world.
In communicating Christ as Savior, we also communicate a new dignity to the people we meet and to whom we witness the faith. A problem that we often experience on mission is that there are huge immediate needs in these countries. One ends up creating water pumps, buildings, schools, dispensaries: all beautiful and important things. But if the mission does not allow people around me to rediscover the dignity of being a child of God, if a missionary does not care about this, everything else is almost useless.
Even in Italy we risk forgetting this witness: towards migrants, for example. Many things are done for them, but no one (or few) are concerned about witnessing to the faith at heart of these actions before them. Many migrants who come to Italy are Christians and therefore would need to be helped to live their faith. But the same is true of Muslim migrants. Many of them remain scandalized when they come to Italy, or to Europe because they see people who do not pray, people without God. If instead they meet people who have faith, who witness to it, they feel comforted. Instead, the great effort on their behalf, even on the part of Christians, is very often purely sociological.
Lay people, that is, baptized
One final point I would like to emphasize is the value of the laity in mission. Benedict XV underlines it in the Maximum Illud and also Pope Francis in many of his speeches. What makes us missionaries is our baptism. The witness of the laity is fundamental above all to heal the indifference towards God and towards neighbor which dominates in society. Much more than the priests, the laity really are in the folds of the world: with their work colleague who no longer believes; with their neighbor, with a person whose faith has become lukewarm; with the Muslim or the Hindu at school ...
We priests should help the laity to be aware of their baptism and that they are missionaries everywhere. In the past there was the mindset that mission meant the priest, the bishop, the missionaries. The laity’s only contribution was financial support of the missions. Today the witness to the faith of the laity as true humanity has become important: in the marriage between man and woman, lived with difficulty, but also with joy; in work that has the horizon of being of benefit to society and not just about the salary; in politics for the common good and not for seats in the halls of power.
Even in "mission" countries the witness of the laity is fundamental. In Hong Kong, many conversions of Chinese happen through the domestic workers who work in their homes. The staff, Filipinos and Catholic, with their service, tenderness towards children, their love for the home, towards their employers, open their hearts to the point of urging them to ask for baptism.
The laity have a very important missionary potential. This is why it is a mission in the community with the laity, who are not simply the executors of the priest, but are the collaborators, the counselors. Certainly the priest has a paternal function to support them, awaken them, correct them, but he needs them in the sowing.
Concern for all the churches.
One last thing: Pope Francis and Benedict XV emphasize that the mission ad gentes is a paradigm of all the Church's missionary activity: This means that it is always necessary to have ad gentes missionaries, who go outside their own borders, who go to find the way to integrate into other cultures to bring the Gospel. Benedict XV constantly emphasizes that we baptized are responsible for the whole mission of the Church. Every diocese always needs a point that acts as a paradigm because otherwise we risk saying always: "Your mission is here, your mission is here". Yes, my mission is here - or where the Spirit sends me - but the desire is always universal. Although I am inside a prison, I am destined to bring the announcement of Christ to the whole world.
In my life I have met people who have spent dozens of years in captivity, because of their faith, in Czechoslovakia or in Vietnam, or in China. Yet they have lived their years in chains in the desire and prayer to evangelize the world.
In the Second Letter to the Corinthians (11:28) there is an expression that St. Paul uses to list the characteristics of the apostle. The expression is "concern for all the churches": I am not only responsible for my parish, or my group, but I am called like Saint Paul to concern myself with, to support, to pray, to gift myself to all the churches.