Twenty-first Century Mission

Dec 8, 2023

A Christian world and a world yet to be evangelised. That situation no longer exists. The people who have not yet heard the gospel no longer live in non-western countries. They are everywhere especially in huge urban areas. In large cities new paradigms are needed. We are not in Christian times. (Pope Francis)  

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi Pope Paul VI speaks specifically of the evangelising mission of migrants. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians, who in the midst of their community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. 

Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine.

Through this wordless witness these Christians stir irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live:

*why are the like this?
*why do they live this way?
*why or whom inspires them?
*Why are they in our midst? 

Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the good news, and a very powerful and effective one.*Here we have an initial act of evangelisation.

The era of triumphalism for empire and church is in history. Church and empire were fellow travellers. This cozy relationship ended with the emergence of newly independent nation states the response of the Second Vatican Council and its implications for the local church.

Mission in the colonial past was associated with the energy of European colonial expansion. That era had ended with the emergence of the local church and its responsibility in mission. The Second Vatican Council heralded a new era for Church and mission. Mission no longer could associate itself as the good clerical Samaritan that made European colonialism respectable. The elaborate trappings of triumphalism of a dubious glorious past no longer held sway or an energy to be replicated.

Pope Paul VI with the research available introduced a new era of mission linked to the energy of the time, urbanisation, local and international migration. As in the past, mission went with human movement. Pope Paul recognised the emergence of a new human energy: migration.

Migrants became the new agents of mission. They, in the past and now, are the ones crossing boundaries as missionary institutes have been running out of energy. His successor, Pope John Paul, during his tenure highlighted urbanization, migration and areas of Asia as opportunities for evangelisation.

Why? People leave home not because they want to but because they have to for a better life. In similar situations throughout history such people display an energy founded on the energy of hope for a better life. In the past did people leave Europe, home, to make perilous journeys across oceans just for adventure? No, they left home in the hope of a better life. Hope then as now was the energising force.

It is the same today. Coming from the undeveloped, incoherent world of today and seeing skylines of the rich world they are saying what immigrants said to themselves in the past; if I can make it here I can make it anywhere. 

Immigrants are the energy band in today’s world. They energise economies at home by their remittances and away by their energy and ingenuity. Their arrival energises local Christian communities, mosques and temples. However, they are framed by modern authoritarians as disease-carrying vermin of the earth to be feared and excluded.

Yet, they are the new force of evangelisation, the new messengers to the new ad gentes, Europe. Secularism is obviously not offering a deep life-meaning as people are flocking to collective events as in mega evangelical churches, mosques temples and music festivals. Imagine a new mega church having a 35,000 capacity being built in Russia.

There is a cloud of energy-sapping nostalgia and anguish hovering around mission institutes, longing for a return of a seeming lost glory. These are not creative forces, rather havens of or indeed prisons of false security in an age of uncertainty. Better having a heightened creative anxiety tinged with hope asking uncomfortable questions expressed in a force of good for others even if others disagree, always persevering without cynicism or pessimism.

Young people today are not joining long-term movements. They are focusing on issues and their resolution in the short-term. However, collective sentimental emotional occasions lacking collective moral ideals struggling for equality, fraternity and solidarity will be transient, ineffective.

Mission today is relating to issues, building bridges, solidarity, resolving tensions. Mission today is beyond geography. Migration is the human heart on a journey of hope. Hope is the dynamic force in a pandemic-ridden world.

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland meets people from a wide variety of nationalities and cultures. In doing so It fulfils the first stage of evangelisation highlighted by Pope Paul VI. Also, it fulfils the second stage of evangelisation by welcoming them with an assurance of safety, protection, offering a sense of belonging on their journey to forming a new home, a new hearth, out of which they contribute to and benefit from the society in which they reside.

Authentic mission must be asking; who are the excluded? Who are denied contributive justice? The severest poverty in that of not being wanted. Mission now is about encounter, welcome and witness expressed in a wide range of new informal participatory ministries challenging dehumanizing secular liberalism in which the market is God, profit is sanctifying grace, heaven is homeowner occupied, to be poor is to be damned, excluded.

The Church is called to remind everyone that for God no one is a foreigner or excluded. It is called to remind awaken consciences dormant in indifference to the reality of migrants. (Pope Francis)

The Donkey

The image before me
shows a man with hesitant step
lead a donkey
into a bleak unknown
woman cradling
baby on board.

The donkey took
Joseph, Mary and Jesus
to safety years ago
fleeing a tyrant

Today, two thousand
years later
donkeys bear
the burden of
frightened humble people
men women children
fleeing the carpet bombs of
new herods.

Fr Bobby Gilmore

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