F J McCarthy MHM looks back
at the noble history of mission and disc avers a vision for the future
THE GI—Cirof being the first foreign missionary belongs to St Patialae responded to the vision the man from Macedonia described lithe Acts of the Apostles and broughtie faith from the East to our own pagaz.--ontinent of Europe.
What is the loolince sheet after 2,000 years of apostok-work?
First of all, cordless of success or failure, we have salute the unremitting zeal of the Cluith. Thrown out from one field of we rk we looked for anotla A new land was hailed is a new opportunity.
These islanciscsd ours have a typically ip‘anddown missionwhistory. Britain was chrisianised by unknown solders and traders of Romanoccupation and was slready represented by e Bishops of York, Lincoln and London at the Council of Arles in AD 31‘, Later, Saxon invadersalmost eradicated the Church, but Britain, most notably England, was echristianised by missionaries sent north from Rine and Christian instinct spread the faith was ermplified by AngloSaxon missionaries like St Wilfrid of Crediton and by the Irish monks ("wanderers forChrist" they called themselves), who took the gospel to north eastern Eupe.
Against the successes in Europe we had to lament theiosses in the East, the very cradle of COnstianity. The praCtice of giving the titles of long-extinct dioceses in Asia llinor to auxiliary bishops is a nostalgic reminder of the Muslim destruction of once-flourishing local churches innorth Africa and the East.
`The 15th and Nth centuries' "age of discovery" opened new doors to the "'Church. Spain and Portugal carried the faith to the New lOrorld. European greed for the gold andriches of Spain and Portugal kept a tight grip on the Churches. In 1622 Rome finally suceeded in at last partially wresting control of the Church from the monarchs and set up the great institution, known as Propaganda for short, for the oversight of missionary work. There were to be closer ties with Rome, more bishoprics, more local clergy, and these latter should be seculars rather than Franciscans or Dominicans. Regular reports were to be sent to Propaganda so that needs and problems could be assessed and personnel and money used accordingly. Every year the national directors of the Asso ciation for the Propagation of the Faith meet to advise the congregation for Evangelisation of the Nations, (the Vatican II name for Propaganda) to ensure the same fair distribution of the funds available.
The 19th century saw a new world map with Britain's red pre-eminent. This gave Protestantism a head start on us, though in the long run we profited from not being overclosely linked with the colonising power. The French experience in the newly independent Algeria of 1963 was precisely the opposite.
The history of mission, like all human history, is a patchwork of success, failure, trying again and adaptation to changing circumstance. For the most part Propaganda got it right. But it disastrously suppressed Ricci's efforts in China and de Nobel's in India to re-cast the essentials of the faith in acceptable eastern modes and language. On the other hand, Rome consistently encourages missionaries to take a leap in the dark, to show faith in their vocation. In 1926, for example, it took the massive authority of Pius XI to impose the first Chinese bishops on reluctant missionaries who had held that the "the time was not ripe". Subsequent political conditions have sadly hamstrung the development of the Church in China. In Africa, however, where mission-work has been relatively untrammelled, the priests and bishops, sons of the country, are forming their own foreign missionary societies send ing apostles to other lands.
In 1990 John Paul II gave the world his great letter on evangelisation, Mission of the Redeemer. Typically, the Pope faces unpleasant facts: "the difficulties seem insuperable. If it were merely a question of relying on human enterprise these difficulties could cause discouragement." Some countries are barred to missionaries, some prohibit all evangelisation, some prohibit even the practice of the faith, some appear inextricably bound in their own traditions. But, he continues, the most painful difficulties are found among the People of God. He quotes Paul VI and detects lack of fervour showing itself in fatigue, frustration, compromise, lack of interest and "hope and joy". Anyone with mission experience knows that "lack of hope and joy" is not a typical phenomenon. In many ways, especially in using the talents of the laity, the mission are years ahead of the homeChurch — perhaps this explains their "hope and joy". The remedy for our own malaise, says the Pope, is confidence rooted in faith. "By this we know that not we but Christ and his Spirit are principal agents of the Church's mission."
Well into the third millenium, Mission of the Redeemer will serve as a groundplan for the Church's response to the great commission: "Preach the good news to all the world."
The fields of activity open to the Church of the coming age are well compared by the Pope to the Greeks listening to Paul in the Areopagus, the cultural centre of Athens. He mentions the media-world which has turned us LIAO die %Indus 'Vlobal village". Even since he wrote in 1990 the world of communications has developed beyond all prediction. We are called not merely use the media but to integrate the Christian message into the "new culture" created by modern technology. While we never forget the unconditional primacy of preaching the "good news", the light of that good news must irradiate every legitimate human endeavour for peace, for genuine prosperity and the achievement of human rights. Above all, the sheer immensity of the non-Christian world should engender in us a hunger to make the Lord known, primarily by our witness.