10/18/2019, 12.20
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Is there a place in the media for mission?

by Bernardo Cervellera

In the secular and religious media the sense of mission is reduced to things to do, acts of charity, ideological positions. Silence shrouds the "why" a missionary gives his or her life. The passion and the desire that the peoples know the love of Jesus Christ allows a prophetic impulse capable of perceiving and helping the development and destiny of peoples.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The value of mission and the media that communicates it, like AsiaNews, is in its prophetic impulse, capable of perceiving and helping the development and destiny of peoples. But all this is born of the passion and desire that people know the love of Jesus Christ.

On the occasion of World Mission Sunday 2019, which is celebrated on October 20, we publish this editorial by the director of AsiaNews. The article was published by "Rogate Ergo", October 2019. For the Message of Pope Francis for the 2019 World Mission Day, see here.

The question I was asked - is there a place in the media for mission? - can be interpreted in two ways. The first: how much space do the media (lay and ecclesial) give to mission? The second: is it worth giving space to mission in the media?

Lt us begin by reflecting on the first : how much space do the media (secular and religious) give to mission? In general I would say: little. In the explosion and pulverization of information that followed the advent of internet, blogs, twitter, instagram, Facebook, etc ... there is so much news that any fact inevitably risks being swallowed up in the media stream. In addition, once the missionaries who went abroad, who grew a long beard, a sign of wisdom (for the Orientals) and of virile adventurism (for Westerners), were among the few who traveled to other continents. They then carried objects, spoke of customs, food, clothes that aroused the curiosity of exoticism.

But now, travelers - with beards and without - to continents, different cultures, situations on the verge of survival and endurance are much more common. Even the media appeal of this exoticism is exploited: the internet is full of documentaries, reportages, photo albums, by one or the other, one group or another. Sometimes these works constitute good ethnographic material, sometimes they do not exceed the level of curiosity (even a bit 'teasing and racist).

It is true that more often than not, these journeys and reports are based on the inspiration or information provided by a missionary (male or female), who became points of reference, who were studied and encountered, and from whom attention to and ability in dialogue between cultures has been drawn. But few - perhaps none - wonder why that missionary is in that inaccessible area and not just for a trip, but for a lifetime.

There are also media that label missionaries with a “because” that is completely extraneous, or far removed from the original why (the announcement of Jesus Christ): they are those missionaries who are presented or quoted to give support to a particular thesis promulgated by a newspaper or blog . In our Italian world, divided between sovereigns and globalizers, we try to show - especially on the theme of migrants - the inevitability of the clash or the encounter with other cultures and religions. In this way, sovereignists risk using the persecutions that missionaries and Christians suffer from fundamentalist Islam as a "proof" that Islam cannot coexist, and that migrants should be rejected, forgetting that there are missionaries and faithful who weave friendly relations with Muslim people and groups. More or less in the same way, globalizers speak of friendship and acceptance with other peoples, again citing missionaries, forgetting (or hiding) the problems, the labors of cultural dialogue, the need for integration, etc. In this sense, the missionaries are so mentioned and present in the media, but exploited as an excuse for an ideology, out of a blind party politics, which fails to perceive the complete reality that is composed of fraternity, but also of problems to that need to be address and not hidden or rejected.

The religious media are no strangers to these attempts to manipulate and exploit, reducing witness to a cliché. Since Pope Francis has said that he likes an "outgoing Church" in "existential and geographical peripheries", we often speak only of "street" missionaries, of commitments to tribes in extinction, of samples in the collection of differentiated waste ... But even here we are silent about the "why" a missionary gives life, a greater and more infinite reason than a generous respect for ecology.

I believe that these reductions and exploitations in the secular and religious media take place because in the Church, in the body of believers, the sense of mission is being reduced and rendered superficial, reduced to things to do, acts of charity, ideological positions. In the Message for World Mission Sunday October 2019, Pope Francis said clearly that mission is "a divine life, is not a product to sell - we do not proselytize - but a wealth to be given". In short, the "Catholic" (total and universal) weight of the mission horizon ("to the ends of the earth") has been lost. This means that the greatness of the gift received from Jesus has also been lost, which is then reduced to some moral rule, to leaps of etiquette, to some charitable operetta that only remotely recalls Christ. Thus, the media are not absent from missionaries, but Jesus Christ is absent, not only as a quotation or model, but as a source of life and action.

For a missionary, dialogue with cultures and with the religions of peoples, charitable help, and social justice are only a very small and everyday part of a task which is to help people know the love of Jesus Christ and his power capable of freeing us from the signs of death that dwell in all cultures and situations.

Lived in this way mission and its communication in the media have a fundamental importance. Precisely because of the desire to communicate the life of Jesus Christ, the missionaries are very attentive to the situations in which they are immersed and carry out a prophetic work, capable of perceiving the dramas and possible developments in a nation. This far exceeds the reductions of exoticism and party politics.

And since Christ has conquered death, missionaries do not stop at denunciation, but make signs of hope shine. Just a few examples: centuries before the world (Western and Eastern) discovered feminism, missionaries men and women opened the first girls' schools in China and Asia, in the name of the dignity and freedom that Christ gives to his creatures. And decades before Mohammed Younus won the Nobel Prize with his "banks for the poor", missionaries from India and Bangladesh constituted farmers' cooperatives to tackle typhoon disasters together, with mercy far greater than Younus’ banks show to those who cannot repay their loans.

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