We Are All Missionaries Now
By Bishop Jan de Groef of Bethlehem – During October we traditionally celebrate World Mission Sunday. Many dioceses give the whole month of October a Mission focus. I appreciate this very much as one cannot overstate the need of being a missionary Church.
Pope John Paul II in his 1990 encyclical letter Redemptoris missio asked: why mission?. In his answer he stressed that the Church, and each individual Christian within her, may not keep hidden or monopolise this newness and richness which has been received from God’s bounty in order to be communicated to all mankind (no 11).
As the newly ordained bishop of Bethlehem I am very happy to notice that my predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Hubert Bucher, has emphasised reaching out to people in need, be it material or spiritual.
One expression of this is the many organisations of social concern in the diocese. Already in 1998 a new pastoral awareness programme was launched, entitled Bethlehem 2000: Stand up and be counted. Part of this programme was to become self-propagating. What was and indeed still is needed is growth within, which means deepening of one’s faith, and growth outwards, which means evangelisation.
Among the recommendations passed by the diocesan pastoral council on May 2, 1998 were: Catholics should be trained to spread the Word of God and make it part of their lives, and Catholics who are influential, leading members in the community should be brought together for workshops in order to enable them to be the salt of the world. And again: Catholics should be in the forefront of the fight against poverty, exploitation, corruption and other social evils, giving their full support to the Catholic Community Services (CCS) initiated by the diocese of Bethlehem. This did not remain theory but has been and is still being implemented.
As a member of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa I can only be delighted by this missionary drive and commit myself to it wholeheartedly. It is my conviction that this reaching out can happen only once we are deeply convinced of the richness of our faith in Christ having accepted him as the Source of Life.
But at the same time this deepening can only happen if we feel the need to share it with others. Sharing our faith with others will make us grow inwardly and strengthen this vital union with Christ who links us with the Father. The agent of this process is the Holy Spirit.
Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris missio calls the Holy Spirit the principal agent of mission, and referring to the Second Vatican Council constitution Gaudium et Spes notes that the Spirit of God with marvellous foresight directs the course of the ages and renews the face of the earth, implying that the Holy Spirit is not just the property of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict wrote his message for World Mission Sunday 2009 in the light of the word of God taken from the book of Revelation 21:24: The nations will come to its light. As goal of the Church’s mission he affirms that it is to illuminate with the light of the Gospel all peoples journeying through history towards God, so that in him they may be fully realised and accomplished. As a result of this we Catholics must live the longing and the passion to illuminate all peoples with the light of Christ.
I see before me the mosaic in the Bethlehem cathedral depicting the deacon Philip helping the Ethiopian understand the Scriptures, travelling with him in his chariot, helping him understand that they focus on Christ, the one sent by God to bring salvation and life to the full.
It is important to be aware that the Ethiopian was already searching and trying to understand something was happening in his heart even before he met Philip but he needed Philip’s help to understand fully. Philip himself was guided by the Holy Spirit to take the initiative to join the Ethiopian on his faith journey.
The mission of the Church ties up nicely with the present Synod for Africa, taking place in this month of October, which has as its theme The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace, responding to the Lord’s challenge to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5:13-14).
Let us actively participate in this year’s mission campaign through our prayers, financial contribution and living witness.
I want to close with part of the prayer asking for the intercession of Mary, Mother of God and protectress of Africa at the end of the lineamenta for the synod:
Holy Mary, guide our path of conversion, so that Jesus will let his glory shine in and on us, in all the places of our personal, family and social life. Mother, filled with mercy and justice, through your docility to the Spirit of Consolation, obtain the grace for us to be witnesses of the risen Lord so that we will increasingly become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Bishop Jan de Groef heads the diocese of Bethlehem, Free State. Updated from 2009