What World Mission Sunday means for us as Church
Father Gerard Louis, CSsR
In 1926, the Pontifical Mission Societies – four missionary societies that come directly under the jurisdiction of the Holy Father – requested Pope Pius XI to establish a “World Mission Day”. The objective of this celebration would be to raise awareness of the Church’s mission, encourage a missionary lifestyle among Catholics, and raise funds in support of the 1,200 mission dioceses in the world which are not self-sufficient. Pope Pius promptly did so, and the first World Mission Sunday was celebrated on the penultimate Sunday of October in 1927.
In our time, Archbishop William Goh has set a vision for the Church in Singapore – to be a vibrant, missionary and evangelising Church. Our celebration of World Mission Sunday 2020 on Oct 18 can help us reflect on what that looks like in reality.
What is the Church’s mission?
Often, we equate the mission of the Church to the provision of sacraments and ordinary pastoral care to the faithful. This is the mission ad intra, the mission to the Church. While necessary, we cannot reduce the Church’s mission to Mass schedules and catechism classes.
The recent document by the Congregation of the Clergy entitled “The pastoral conversion of the parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church”, challenged parishes to what it called a “pastoral conversion”. Pope Francis expressed the fear that many Christian communities have developed a false sense of security in structures that simply maintain a status quo for the benefit and convenience of the “old faithful”. The mission of the Church is not the self-preservation of its structures.
Pope Francis challenged the Church to go to the peripheries, to become a field hospital and reminded us that ‘la Chiesa sempre in uscita’ – the Church is always going out. Parishes need to be places where the story of Jesus is shared, where people find healing from the wounds of life, and where people are welcome to encounter and grow in a relationship with Christ. This encounter must radically change a person’s perspective of life. This is the Church’s mission ad extra, the mission to the world.
How then can we describe the Church’s mission in a positive way? Pope Paul VI in his monumental 1975 document on mission, Evangelii nuntiandi says that the Church’s mission is to give a witness and proclamation of the Christian faith.
Evangelisation begins with the witness of our lives. Christians must have integrity. That means trying to live the teachings of Jesus in our ordinary lives in spite of our human limitations. This is done not only by the individual but by the community. The Church community needs to be a place of hospitality, nurturing and reconciliation. Witnessing does not impose the Christian faith. Rather, it makes people take notice, it inspires them and prompts them to ask questions. It is at this point that the Church is ready to make its proclamation. Proclamation is the explicit communication of the Gospel message, the Good News of God’s plentiful redemption in Jesus Christ.
Our witness and proclamation will only be seen as authentic when the Church makes what is known as a “preferential option for the poor”. This is when the Church makes a conscious effort to serve those who are on the peripheries of society, speak for those who have no voice, accompany those who are abandoned and feed those who are hungry. These actions, done following the example of Christ, give credibility to the witness and proclamation of the Church.
Mission – faith in practice
An effort to be a vibrant, missionary and evangelising church includes kerygma, the proclamation of the faith, diakonia, service to the poor and abandoned, and finally, koinonia, the witness of a Christian community.
This Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to its knees and has also challenged our Christian community to live our vision. Has all our energy gone into reopening churches and getting Mass schedules back on track? Has there been a focus ad intra, an expectation that we must return to the status quo? While the provision of pastoral care is fundamental, this health crisis has also led to economic, human and spiritual crises. The Church is challenged to make bold decisions to serve our brothers and sisters who are needy and abandoned. This could be an opportune moment for the Church to grow in its mission ad extra.
Mission Sunday is a time to acknowledge the many Church organisations and Catholics who carry out the Church’s mission – who witness, proclaim and serve. How can we support them?
Pope Francis’ theme for this year’s World Mission Sunday is: “Here am I – send me.” What is the mission that God is calling the Church to at this time? We are confronted with illness, suffering, fear and isolation. We see the abandoned who live in dormitories or confined alone, we see the poor who have lost their income. Social distancing and social responsibility should make us more aware of how we relate to others. The pandemic has taught us a lot and helped us to reflect on the Church’s mission.
It is a reminder that the mission of the Church is not just to serve the faithful; rather, it is the duty of the faithful to serve the mission of the Church.
Fr Gerard teaches theology at St Francis Xavier Major Seminary, Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore and St Alphonsus Theology and Mission Institute, the regional seminary of the Redemptorists in Davao City, Philippines.