06/07/2016, 10.58
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Mission is not clerical, but played out in Church-world relationship. Everything else is useless

by Fabrizio Meroni*

The Secretary General of the Pontifical Missionary Union comments on Pope Francis’ address to mark the body's centenary. The need for serious consideration of how to renew and reform the missionary structures of the  Church, and to rediscover and apply the Second Vatican Council. Mission is not only the identity of the Church, but it is the ordinary way in which the Church is in the world. Wherever it encounters this world.


Rome (AsiaNews) - The mission of the universal Church flows through the Church-world relationship. The ancient north-south or east-west tracks, born in a very different historical and clerical context should not and cannot exist: we must instead return to the Second Vatican Council and apply it, making all baptized missionaries. Fr. Fabrizio Meroni, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and General Secretary of the Pontifical Missionary Union and Director of CIAM (International Center for Formation and Mission), is convinced of this.  He spoke to AsiaNews commenting on the speech delivered by Pope Francis on the occasion of the centenary of the founding of the Union during the audience granted to the Pontifical Mission Societies on Saturday 4 June. Below Fr. Meroni’s analysis.

In his address to the Pontifical Mission Societies, the Pope told us that as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Missionary Union - PUM, founded on October 31, 1916 by Blessed Paolo Manna, a PIME missionary – we must first of all think seriously about how to reform it and how to radically renew it, so that in fact may be the soul of all the Pontifical Mission Societies, as Paul VI desired and conceived it in the Apostolic Letter of September 5, 1966 "Graves et Increscentes".

In order to be a soul we must give that “ardent and thinking” hear to all the Pontifical Mission Societies mentioned by Pope Francis, so they can renew their passion and zeal for the mission that - as we were reminded - is rooted in the mystic of saints and martyrs.

The Pope says that the best way in which to celebrate a centenary is to thank the Lord for what Fr. Manna did but at the same time to in act a three-year period – and indeed we are thinking on it – of radical rethinking and real reform of the nature of the mission and the role of the Pontifical Missionary Union with respect to the other three bodies: the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith the Pontifical Society for Holy Childhood and the Pontifical Society of St Peter Apostle, which serves the major seminaries and novitiates of Asia, Africa and Oceania.

This three year period is thus far structured in the following way: 2016 spent in listening and observation and the following two years (2017 and 2018) dedicated to the listening to local Churches and their missionary forces, but with formation activities and an attempt to resume the publication of our magazine which has been suspended for an experimental period. This period of time has as its sole purpose to apprehend - together with the local Churches in Asia, Africa and Oceania - how we in the center can help them in the permanent formation for mission, in a way which authentically corresponds to their real needs.

In order to do this the Pontifical Missionary Union needs to be able to invest people, time and money in the ongoing missionary formation required by these Churches. Young Churches are in a permanent state of mission because they are numerically - or culturally, or economically or because of their susceptibility to persecution - the "great minorities”. So any pastoral work they do - from catechism to Caritas, preparation for First Communion to marriage or to the catechumenate - are all pastoral ordinary activities but within a clearly missionary socio-cultural structure. Even if these Churches did not want it to be so, the historical and geographical situation they find themselves in imposes on them mission as their identity.

The involvement of the universal Church

The "Old Churches” of Europe and the Americas have a lot to learn from this reality. The PUM favors Asia, Africa and Oceania because they are the territories of Propaganda Fide, but does not exclude Europe and the Americas. On the contrary, we would like to become more involved with them. This involvement already exists in terms of donations: money that Christians in these countries have for many years offered to the Pope, putting him in a position as a universal shepherd to help all churches - especially the poorest - in their regular mission.

We also ask them to provide staff who can help the PMU and the local Churches of Asia, Africa and Oceania in their continuing formation. These Americans and these Europeans, returning to their home, will in turn make of their experience in ongoing formation for mission, one of missionary animation for their own churches. In reality, it is not a case of favoring anyone, but starting from these Churches which are by their very nature in a permanent state of mission.

The Church is always missionary

The Church is always, constantly, everywhere and always in a permanent state of mission. This concept involves everyone: religious, clergy and baptized. So in fact there is no north-south or east-west flow, nor an opposition one. Instead, there is a reality, a network that spans the world where mission requires a Church that knows how to evangelize even more. As Pope Francis recalled in his address to Card. Marc Ouellet March 19 last, no one is born bishop or priest, but we are all born baptized lay people as the People of God. To be born as baptized laity, means being placed by the Spirit of God in the world with the newness of Jesus Christ working in our lives.

Two considerations must be made: the first is that in fact Pope Francis never talks about new or old mission or evangelism, but always speaks of being missionary. And he never identifies mission territories to discrimination of others. So it is rather clear: mission is not only the identity of the Church, but it is the ordinary way in which the Church is in the world. Wherever it encounters this world.

Mission is for everyone

From the point of view of historical consideration, we must keep in mind that in fact the mission ad gentes, especially after the discovery of the Americas, is a reality that has greatly reduced the clerical state. So - although there were catechists with various Missionary Institutes, Congregations and Orders - in reality, priests and religious were sent. Being forced 50 years after Vatican II to once again ascertain that all baptized, the whole people of God, are called to mission means that we are lagging behind in an authentic understanding and reception of that Council. As Benedict XVI had already recalled.

So in fact, mission does not need to be de-clericalized. We certainly witnessed a period in which there was a strong clericalization of the mission ad gentes, but now with the declining number of priests available for this type of work, the Spirit - in a very provocative manner – is demanding new ideas.

The fundamental question is this: are we 50 years behind the Council with regards mission because we have reduced mission to an ecclesiastical matter. Instead we have failed to really consider – in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II - mission as the Church's ordinary relationship with the world.

If instead of concentrating all of our reflections of the renewal brought by the Council in Ad Gentes (with some small reference to Lumen Gentium) we placed Lumen Gentium at the center of our reflections followed by, Ad Gentes, Gaudium et Spes and Apostolicam Actuositatem, most likely we would not have to catch up almost 50 years . Years when in fact it was hard to think that the mission really was for everyone, even if we continuously repeated it.

The Spirit’s intuition

However, the Holy Spirit has greatly helped us, who has since given rise to experiences of proclaiming the Gospel ad gentes thanks to the new ecclesial movements. The universal ecclesial movements, known and supported by the last three popes, are the places where many lay people, many families, many spouses have experienced the missionary identity of their baptism. In what way? Having been highly educated in the faith in the Church-world relationship and through them being present as professionally active and competent spouses and consecrated. Not in the relationship of Church-continent X, or Church-continent Y. In this context, of course, the Holy Spirit through these ecclesial experiences have helped us to experience this Church-world relationship, with greater responsibility and ability.

Today the opportunity to seriously rethink mission is in this perspective, that of our relationship with the world. And the ordinary relationship between the Church and the world is called mission. For this reason the Pope says that there is no ordinary pastoral work that is not in and of itself missionary: certainly, if for ordinary pastoral work we mean the organization of the Curia, pastoral planning, formation of commissions and priests spend their time in these tasks, then it is the same Pope who pointed out that this is useless. These are only a waste of time, and in fact have caused us to lose a lot of time over the past 50 years.

Shrugging off clericalism

Mission is not a north-south dynamic but neither is it a south-north dynamic. We cannot say that a Church is missionary because it sends his priests abroad. A truly missionary church is a church that takes its relationship with the world seriously. So the fundamental issue is not priests: it is marriage, family, work, the economy, illness, suffering, death, ethnic or social discrimination amenities, education, the ability of a society - and therefore of a Church – to counter the destruction of humanity where this happens.

Unfortunately today many local Churches are incapable of expressing a true missionary being because their ecclesiastical structure is exclusively concerned with self-administration. A wrong concern, the Pope says: a Church is not "functional" because it manages its diocesan or parish structures, thanks to a self-preserving ministry. The churches that act in this way do not know what they are or what their relationship with the world is: many bishops feel functional and satisfied because they have assigned a priest to each parish. This mentality tells us that evangelization is the least of their problems, and this can happen in a church of ancient date as in a younger church. Taking care of the parish reveals a missionary attitude if the concern of the Church is interested in the world to love and save it in Christ.

When there is a purely "hierological" mentality these problems occur: when a priest is happy with the full church, everything ends there. You can have dozens of meetings, but they will never be formative. It's like talking to mirrors, a schedule that totally ignores where the church is and what it is doing in real life. This is the reason why many churches today have become meaningless, even from a cultural point of view and despite the broad masses of Catholics they can boast. The future of the Church is not where we have a high percentage of Christians, but where there are martyrs.

Mission is witness

So mission cannot and must not be reduced to those priests who are sent overseas, because it is a clerical reduction of the Church. When the Pope says the Pontifical Mission Societies to put aside planning and fundraising and to dedicate more to our identity, spirituality, passion and love for mission, he says that mission is not proselytism – that it is not carried out through strategies that intend to keep people in the churches, or attract them with techniques or  tricks - but by attraction. Through witness, martyrdom, charity and commitment to show how faith enters into everyone’s life, how believing in Christ is reasonable and good for our life.

There seems to be little interest in mission today, because it no longer seems to imply life. The Pope reminded us that even the blessed Paolo Manna wanted the PUM to become a clerical reality called Missionary Union for the Clergy, but it was designed in an ecclesiastical context in which the Church was still reduced to bishops and priests. Manna in all his writings is very clear: the commitment is that through the ministry of the clergy all the faithful become missionaries. A vision that is not clerical, but that requires the attentive service of the shepherds.

The very clear direction, in rethinking and reforming the Pontifical Missionary Union, is to work on lifelong formation for mission in the young Churches. This is the task that we face in these next three years.

* PIME Missionary, Secretary General of the Pontifical Missionary Union and Director of CIAM


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