10/06/2012, 00.00
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Vatican II and mission: Ad Gentes and the reality of the Holy Spirit

by Piero Gheddo
The long road towards unity in recognizing the value of mission ad gentes, of the missionaries, the young Churches and Propaganda Fide. A witness of the Council speaks (Part Three).

Rome (AsiaNews) - Previously I spoke of the four difficulties that beset the path of missionary decree "Ad Gentes" of the Second Vatican Council (see here). Here, now, is the fifth:

5) After the III Session of the Council (1964), the installation of Ad Gentes left little room for the new churches of Asia, Africa and Oceania, grouping them together with those of ancient Christian tradition; it took into account the unity of Church, but not of Catholicism, it did not encourage the pluralism of the theological expressions of Christian life; it still reflected the classic vision of the missions that move from the West to other continents.

This needed to be remedied, so to speak; while negative opinions of and proposals for the Holy See Congregation for the missions, Propaganda Fide, did not lead to a real change in the text prepared ahead of the Council. On the one hand some even called for the abolition of the Congregation for the evangelization of non-Christians, because the Church is One (in the same way they had asked for the inclusion of biblical-theological principles on the mission of the Church in the Constitution on the Church ), on the contrary, many Council Fathers asked for the strengthening of Propaganda, with study commissions and the active presence and involvement of the congregation in the various regions of the mission, to recover its leadership role, overcoming the purely legal and financial function for the missionary diocese, which it had come to assume over the years.

In fact, from its birth (1622) at the beginning of the twentieth century Propaganda Fide had played a strong, vigorous, strategic and concrete role in guiding missionary work, as well as in the life of institutions and the missionaries themselves, but after the first missionary encyclical of Benedict XV ("Maximum illud", 1919) missions increasingly became integrated into the ordinary life of the Church: The Role of Propaganda was therefore reduced, loosing its incisiveness, while the Secretary of State gained increasing strength, through its Apostolic Nunciatures, as well as the other congregations of the Holy See. Many missionary bishops wanted to address this issue seeing the great need to re-launch the Missionary Congregation and its freedom of judgment and action: the missionary bishops wanted more freedom, which could only be guaranteed by Propaganda Fide. As time was running out in the final race, nothing was done and maybe also because the movement towards centralization and unification was perhaps inevitable.

The "Missionaries" chapter (Chapter IV) is new compared to the original document, which was introduced after the second session of the Council. The text reaffirms the "vocation" to foreign missions, highlighting the specificity of exclusively missionary institutions, which many challenged many (especially the religious).

Another issue that I followed closely, particularly because of the "lobbying" of the Amazon bishops, was that of the missionary territories of Latin America. Bishop Archangel Cerqua PIME prelate of Parintins (Brazilian Amazon) and Msgr. Aristide Pirovano, also from PIME and prelate of Macapà in the Amazon were "lobbying" for a last minute inclusion in ad Gentes, of note 37 of Chapter VI, that equates the (then) 35 Brazilian Amazon prelatures (as well as many other Latin American) to the missionary territories dependent on Propaganda Fide. Otherwise Latin America remained excluded from the aid of the Pontifical Mission Societies, to which it is entitled today. In the decisive vote (November 1965), 117 fathers of Latin America voted against the definition of mission that did not seem to include them, while their situation was in fact missionary. But even with 117 against (out of 2153 votes), the definition passed, given that the other 712 fathers voted in favor, but " iuxta modum", therefore the text had to be modified because it was not approved by two-thirds! Thus it came to pass that the Latin America prelatures were included among the territories helped by the Pontifical Mission Societies.

This fact is not surprising. We really believed that the Holy Spirit guided the Assembly of the Vatican Council, which was formed by the bishops of the world, with completely different mentalities and experiences. The bishops also held discussions outside the Council Assembly and formed groups for and against the topic under discussion. In the PIME community in Rome there were two missionary archbishops and twelve missionary bishops all Italians, during lunch and dinner, but also in community life, it was interesting to hear the opinions, debates, reasons that brought each bishop in favor of the thesis that they supported . There are facts such as the Ad Gentes, but also several others (eg the approval of the collegiality of the bishops with the Pope), whose approval was obvious result of the intervention of the Holy Spirit!

In our Commission, we had arrived almost at the end of the Council and the Ad Gentes was not ready. In the break between the third and fourth session, the final one, there was a pervasive anxiety, even almost despair. Compared to the first draft, the text had been turned upside down and there was no time to right it. The " Schema Decreti de Activitate Missionali Ecclesiae " (in five chapters, the one approved at the end of the council has six), approved by the Pope, was printed May 28, 1965 and during the summer sent to the Council fathers. It was about five times longer than the previous "13 proposals" that the document was to have been reduced to!

It seemed an incredible success, but not yet enough: the toughest commitment for the Commission on missions was yet to come, with the advice of the bishops received in summer and the beginning of the last session of the Council 14 September 1965. The decisive months were October and November, when a chapter was introduced to the draft, chapter III: "De Ecclesiis particularibus", which begins by praising the progress and "the firmness and stability of young Churches" and sees them not only as the end of the mission ("planting the Church among peoples or groups who do not yet believe in Christ," no. 6), but as active agents and subjects of mission. More space and importance to the action of the laity was given, the chapter on "Missionaries" (the IV) was re-written, amplifying and enriching it with many of the comments suggested by the bishops. In November there were 20 votes on the missionary decree, approved by a large majority, but with about 500 pages of "modi", suggestions, council discussions and additions, corrections, different expressions. There was less than a month to the end of the Council and it still seemed as if we had to start over!

Then, mysteriously, it all worked out in the end: the entire decree was approved by 2,162 votes in favor and 18 against, and during the last public sitting, 2,394 in favor, 5 against. It was the highest level of unanimity ever reached in the Council! "The Holy Spirit really is here," exclaimed Card. Agagianian .

For the previous installments see:

28/09/2012 Rediscovering the faith, rediscovering the Council

01/10/2012 The Ad Gentes decree, Vatican II's difficult mission





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See also
PIME dean celebrates 75 years of priesthood, entirely dedicated to China
Mission after the Council: Contention and Third-worldism
Good Gospel tidings among Fang animists
Paul VI: The return to mission, after ideological inebriation and charity without proclamation
John Paul II, the pope of the mission ad gentes


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