World Mission Day seen from India
by p. Ambrose Pitchaimuthu

Next Sunday, the Church around the world celebrates the day that focuses on the proclamation of the Gospel to those who have not yet known Jesus. The director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in India offers his reflection on what missionary conversion means today amid the wounds of the Church’s scandals and the hostility of fundamentalists.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - World Mission Sunday will be celebrated on 23 October in churches around the world, centred on "You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), title of the message released by Pope Francis for this event, which directly affects  Churches of Asia.

According to data released by Agenzia Fides on the eve of Mission Sunday, Asia is the continent with by far the lowest percentage of Catholics, 3.34 per cent of the population or 151,867,000 out of 4.45 billion. Interestingly, Asia has a very high ratio of priests to faithful, one priest for every 2,138 Catholics; only in Europe is the ratio higher (one for every 1,746 Catholics) but with a much higher average age.

In light of this, the Churches of Asia are asking themselves how to breathe new life in their missionary witness. To this end, we propose below the thoughts sent to us for World Mission Sunday by Fr Ambrose Pitchaimuthu, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in India. In his piece, he looks at what it means for India’s Churches today to truly live in the perspective of missionary conversion while grappling with the intolerance of Hindu fundamentalism against every form of Christian witness as well as tackling some challenges from within the Christian community itself.

The Church exists for as long as the mission exists.  The Church is called to be a continuation of the Lord Jesus Christ and His mission. The great commission that the Risen Lord Jesus renders His disciples “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) is a basic, vital, perennial constituent of the Church.

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis revolutionises the vision of the mission by pointing that it is not only an 'I have’ a mission but I am a mission, likewise, you are a mission.  Here we find our Holy Father shifting focus from the functionality (doing) to the ontology (being) of a Christian.

Thus, we understand that the mission of the Church is to respond to the realities of life with the joy of the Gospel, through dialogue and acts of mercy, so as to build God’s kingdom.

Challenges faced by the Church are internal and external and confront us in our mission.

Internal challenges:

Lack of Missionary Role Models: The faithful at times may fail to see credible role models among priests and consecrated persons who can challenge and inspire them to proclaim the joy of the Gospel with one another.  The recent scandals in some parts of our country have terribly tarnished the image of the Church in India, especially for people of other faiths who may already regard her mission as suspicious.

Scandalous Commercialisation of our institutions: There is an erosion of credibility among some priests and consecrated persons because some of our institutions (educational, medical, etc.) may appear to be money-making enterprises and seeking academic excellence at the cost of Christian values.  Advertently or inadvertently, some Christian institutions also get entangled in competing scenarios, where success alone matters, not the means.

Burden of the Past: Burdens of the past such as casteism, tribalism, race distinctions, rites (also between Christian traditions) supremacy, etc., create a kind of mental block for Christ-seekers and faith watchers, making our approach for the propagation of the faith as also coming from the same fervour. This also has adverse effects, even suspicion of intent, during our outreach programmes.

External challenges

Persecution of Christian Minorities: The growing incidents of violence and attacks on priests and religious, churches and institutes have created a fear psychosis among Christians today.  Parents are at times afraid of sending their children, particularly to the mission territories of our country.  The liberal constitutionalism and democratic traditions are fundamentally questioned by the rising intolerance.

Religious Fundamentalism: Many have reduced our great spiritual legacy of religious tolerance into fundamental ideologies so as to manipulate them according to their whims and fancies, catching simple people unawares as they fall prey to it.  Hindu Rashtra constructed by Hindutva, Hindu nationalism, Islamic States, etc., are examples of such endeavours.

Planned Efforts to Tarnish the Image of the Church: There have been planned efforts to tarnish the good image of love and service of the Church and Church personnel.  Sometimes situations are created to entice priests and the religious into controversial debates and their inputs misused later as an exposure on panel discussions.  At other times, they are dragged into the hands of anti-Christian and anti-Catholic movements misinterpreting their humanitarian enthusiasm.  Even little faults can prove fatal when exaggerated on mainstream or social media.

Challenge: Transforming a Pastoral Church into a Missionary Church: In general, the Church is more pastoral than evangelising.  Pope Francis’s Church for the poor and of the poor would be the most powerful witness to the good news of Christ Jesus.  We are in need of persons like Mother Teresa who translated Christ’s message into action in a quiet yet tangible way, more than many others who tried to assert the uniqueness and nobility of the Christian message through intellectual gymnastics.

In this contextual situation, the mission cannot be conceived as it may have been traditionally perceived so far.  One needs to understand the mission in a new dimension taking into consideration these contextual situations.  We cannot deny the fact that the Church has addressed all of the above realities at differ points in time. However, this is to continue the journey of transforming the Catholic Church into a missionary church.

Pope Francis attests in the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 27) a “missionary option”. This missionary impulse is capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s traditions, ways of doing things, times and schedules, languages and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her preservation.


* National Director, Pontifical Mission Societies in India

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)