12/11/2020, 13.55
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Our message is Christ; we are not an NGO

by Alfred Maravilla SDB

Even where it is impossible to proclaim the name of Jesus aloud, the testimony of Christians must be so clear as to stir up interest in Him. A councillor in the Salesian Missions Department, a former missionary in Papua New Guinea, gives his thoughts. The Salesians have a strong presence in Asia.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Missionaries are not primarily “social services providers,” but evangelisers who proclaim “the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God,” says Fr Alfred Maravilla, a 57-year-old Filipino Salesian.

For the missionary, who spent 21 years in Papua New Guinea, in places “where we cannot even mention the name of Jesus nor display Christian symbols,” bearing witness must be so clear as to “stir up an interest” in Jesus,

Last March he became a councillor in his order’s Missions Department. As evinced in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis, like Benedict XVI and John Paul II before him, has expressed an ongoing concern that the Christian presence not be reduced to that of an NGO.

In Asia, the Salesians are present in 21 countries with 4,268 members (as of January 2020). In addition to pastoral work, they support almost a thousand educational establishments (from universities to kindergartens).

The feast of Christmas brings us to the heart of our Christian faith. However, when any reference to the birth of Christ is eliminated, it isn’t Christmas anymore. Indeed, there is no Christmas without Jesus Christ!

We are often invited to start a Salesian presence in many places because they appreciate our ministry for poor and abandoned youth, our technical training in our centres or our social work in favour of refugees, marginalised youth and displaced people.

This is a great blessing. However, it could also become a risk. We Salesians could risk focusing so much on our work for human promotion and development of the poor and marginalised that we could end up less as evangelisers and more as social workers or social services providers.

If this happens, soon the desire to do good will fade and the joy of evangelising will no longer be felt. There is no mission without Christ! In fact, “there is no true evangelisation if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (St Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22)!

Certainly, “no believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Redemptoris Missio, 3). But there are situations or contexts where we cannot even mention the name of Jesus nor display Christian symbols. In these cases, although it is not prudent to speak about Jesus, we should never lose that interior desire and inner intention of doing what we do to bear witness to Jesus.

The challenge is to live in such a way that our witness of life becomes a means to stir up an interest to discover the person of Jesus. Indeed “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1).

Living Don Bosco’s missionary spirit today means renewing daily our personal encounter with Jesus Christ so that we may not preach ourselves but be credible bearers of The Message we bring: our Lord Jesus Christ!

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”