06/17/2014, 00.00
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In Italy the mission to the nations is no more

by Piero Gheddo
Published twice a year, the Ad Gentes journal is no more. The notion that the whole Church has a missionary vocation has voided the "missio ad gentes" of its raison d'être. At present, the mission to the nations has been replaced by globalism and social and environmental action. Can anyone tell how many young men and women become missionaries to protest against weapons production? None.

Milan (AsiaNews) - This is not good news for us missionaries ad gentes and the Italian Church. The superiors of Italy's missionary institutes have decided to end the publication of the Ad Gentes journal. Established in 1997, it was the only Italian language publication expressly dedicated to the missio ad gentes, other than those put out by individual missionary institutes.

Why is it closing? As far as I can tell, there are two reasons:

1) Few people subscribe any more. Almost all the printed copies were sent free or in exchange to libraries, universities, seminaries, etc. This meant that member institutes had to cover the liabilities.

2) The mission to the nations is losing its identity and fewer people - in parishes, dioceses, seminaries and the people of God - care about it, at least in Italy. There is less and less media coverage, except when Italian missionaries are martyred or persecuted.

I spoke with Fr Dino Doimo, a PIME missionary in Hong Kong since 1959. "I have come back with a heavy heart," he told me "because Italy is no longer a favourable environment for missions and missionaries. Everyone is now saying that Italy has become a place of mission. Only some friends and relatives, and only a few others, are interested in converting that continent that is China."

Since 1958, Italy's missionary institutes, through the Pontifical Missionary Union of the Clergy, send their missionary workers to diocesan seminaries, minor and major. Each worker was responsible for the seminaries of a region, which they had to visit during the year. This way, all Italian seminaries were visited every year by a different worker.

A young worker told me "this period is coming to an end because it is difficult to find a seminary that is willing to receive a missionary and let him address seminarians. We have so few seminarians and they are so busy and the missions draw fewer people."

All this shows what everyone already knows, that the Italian Church, with the crisis of faith and priestly and religious vocations, is turning inwards and missionary institutes are intended primarily to contribute through their houses, churches and priests to parish communities that are understaffed in terms of clergy.

I wonder if the missionary institutes, like my PIME and others, religious or belonging to the secular clergy, wonder about the decline and the weakening of our specific charism, the first proclamation made to non-Christians, who still represent about 80 per cent of humanity.

I also remember that our charism as missionaries ad gentes was strongly confirmed by Vatican II and the ecclesiastical magisterium follows to this day. Since I have been an Italian missionary priest for 61 years (since 1953), I think I have the right to point out two fundamental errors that everyone, more or less, has made. I do so in a non-polemical spirit to help us reflect.

FIRST. After the Fidei Donum (1957) and Vatican II (1962-1965), people began saying that the whole Church had a missionary vocation and that missionary institutes no longer made sense.

Yet, both Ad Gentes (No. 6) and Redemptoris Missio (Nos. 33-34) make it clear that the mission to the nations should not be confused with pastoral work towards the baptised and therefore "the institutes remain extremely necessary"(AG, 27). In R.M. (66) we read, "The special vocation of missionaries 'for life' retains all its validity. [. . .] This requires careful reflection, especially on the part of missionaries themselves, who may be led, as a result of changes occurring within the missionary field, no longer to understand the meaning of their vocation and no longer to know exactly what the Church expects of them today."

Perhaps we did not think this through; so much so, that even missionary institutes might no longer believe in their original charism, this at a time when the young churches in the non-Christian world have an absolute need for them even today. All the bishops are saying so. The same thing is true for the Pontifical Mission Societies.

As long as the institutes were under the Holy See, and did not depend on Italian bishops, they performed their primary task, which was to remind the nations about the mission, that it was universal, that it required prayers, vocations, and material help.

Since they became diocesan, the mission to the nations involved the twinning of an Italian diocese with one of the missions. The broader horizon disappeared as missionaries become responsible to the dioceses, and were almost always in Latin America and Africa. Now, with Italian dioceses in crisis, it is easy to imagine what is happening.

SECOND. The second fundamental mistake was to politicise the mission to the nations, and I have always (and unsuccessfully) condemned this suicidal tendency of missionary institutes, which has changed our image in Italian public opinion.

In Missione senza se e senza ma ('Mission without ifs and buts' by EMI 2013, 250 p.), I talk about the history of this suicide in a chapter (La crisi dell'ideale missionario, The crisis of the missionary ideal).

Until the Second Vatican Council, our identity was clearly defined: go to the non-Christian nations, wherever the Holy See sent us, to proclaim and bear witness to Christ and his Gospel, which everyone needs. Of course, we also talked about charity, education, health care, rights and justice for the poor and the exploited.

What stood out was the enthusiasm to be called by Jesus to bring him to the people who live without knowing the God of Love and Forgiveness. There was the enthusiasm of the missionary vocation, joyfully expressed.

We often spoke about Catechesis, Catechumenate, conversions to Christ, praying and suffering for the missions, why nations needed Christ, and so on.

Above all, there was talk of missionary vocations, because the missionary is in a privileged position for he goes to the edges of the earth to bring forth the Testament of Jesus who ascended to Heaven. However, tell me, today who shows any enthusiasm for the missionary vocation and where did the call for missionary vocations ad gentes go?

Today we missionaries engage in national campaigns against foreign debt, against weapons production, against counterfeit medical drugs and for public ownership of water. We no longer speak about the mission to the nations but address world, social and environmental issues.

Can you tell me how many young men and women become so excited about a protest against weapons production that they decide to become missionaries? None. In fact, missionary institutes have almost no more Italian vocations. Therefore, let us not complain if the Ad Gentes journal is closing down. Based on all I have said, it is the logical outcome.

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