SECOND AMERICAN MISSIONARY CONGRESS: OPENING ADDRESS
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe
Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples


CHURCH IN AMERICA MUST BE MISSIONARY — NOW
 

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am delighted to be here with you today as the Envoy of the Holy Father to preside at the Second American Missionary Congress (C.A.M.), a pleasing expression of the solicitude of all the particular Churches of America for the proclamation of the Gospel of Life to all Nations.

I affectionately greet the Archbishop of Guatemala, His Eminence Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruρo, all the members of the Episcopacy of Guatemala and Central America, the Bishops, the National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies, the pastoral agents, missionaries, the families, the youth and the children, and the representatives and delegates of the Dioceses of the North, South and Centre of the Continent of America and the Caribbean.

I greet you all on behalf of the Holy Father who, from Rome, desires to be spiritually united with you in the celebration of the Congress. I bring to all of you his affection, his closeness and his blessing.

With the First American Missionary Congress (VI Latin American) celebrated four years ago in Paranα, Argentina, the fruit of the marvellous journey that the Church in Latin America has undertaken for missionary animation by means of "COMLA", one seed of unity was sown, which has enabled development to flourish to such an extent that this Second American Missionary Congress is now taking place. It was after the celebration of the Special Synod for America in 1997 that the Sixth Latin American Missionary Congress wished to embrace fraternally "all the Churches of the Continent", thus becoming the First American Missionary Congress. In this way it was desired to stress what the Holy Father, in his celebration of the Synod for America, had expressed: "that closer bond which the peoples of the Continent seek and which the Church wishes to foster", and in this way to urge on, with greater vigour, the evangelizing mission of the Church, in the Continent as well as beyond its own borders1 (cf. Ecclesia in America, n. 5).

Dear brothers and sisters, "The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion. As the second Millennium after Christ's coming draws to an end, an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 1).

The Holy Father begins the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio with these words. They offer us a surprising interpretation of the times in which the Church is living, describing them not as the age of the completion or of the end of the mission, but rather of its beginning. Can we affirm, after 2,000 years, that today (26 November 2003), the mission of the Redeemer is still at its beginning? Is this perhaps a rhetorical way of revitalizing an ecclesial activity that to some extent is in a phase of degeneration?

If we briefly run through the earnest journey that the Church has made in these last decades, seeking to discover the signs of divine providence in history, we can appreciate that these words have not been written only to embellish a text, but to describe an urgent need.

1. The Second Vatican Council

If we place ourselves in this historical perspective we can affirm with no shadow of doubt that "the Second Vatican Council constitutes a providential event..., it was an evangelical response to recent changes in the world, including the profoundly disturbing experiences of the 20th century..., the Council, with fresh vigour, has pointed out to the men and women of today that Christ is 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world', the Redeemer of humanity and the Lord of history".2

The Holy Spirit, who animates and guides the Church in all ages and urges us to a greater fidelity to the Gospel, inspired the Second Vatican Council to give a concrete response to the evolution of today's world. The tragic experiences of the 20th century and the "stress" that the above-mentioned events, past and present, have caused in the most robust constitutions of contemporary man, the phenomena of atheism and moral relativism, demanded and demand a new proclamation of Jesus Christ.3

The Second Vatican Council, due to its pastoral character, had an exceptionally great missionary value, not only in those documents that in a special way deal with the mission ad gentes. The Council describes the Church as the "sacrament of salvation", a transparent sign and the bearer of Christ to all humanity (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 48; Ad Gentes, n. 1). This central idea, of profound significance and missionary transcendency, of the urgency, namely, of a universal evangelization, is clearly underlined in Lumen Gentium, n. 1. The Church can therefore present herself as a "sign lifted up among the nations" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 2), "at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God's love for men" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 45).

Paul VI himself stated that n. 2 of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi presents a radically missionary interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, "in which the objectives are definitely summed up in this single one: to make the Church of the 20th century ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the 20th century". In the above Exhortation, a document that has played an important part in the reflection of the Church in Latin America,4 the foundations of the mission and of contemporary evangelization are topics that have been the central themes of the various Synods that the Church has celebrated in recent decades at the general, continental, national and diocesan levels (cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente, n. 21).

In the fascinating and at times dramatic journey of humanity, characterized, as said above, by rapid and general transformations, by the destruction of traditional societies, the phenomenon of secularization and the revival of a vague religious sentiment, the Church is aware that, living in a "new world" — a global society —, in a certain way "a new beginning" is also found.

It is a world that does not enjoy, as in the past, "clear and well-defined borders"5 where other cultures, religious experiences, anthropologies and models of humanity live together side by side with Christianity. Faced with this pluralism, the Christian faith is a voice among other voices. Furthermore, in many modern Areopagi respect for the common consideration of society is found to be swimming against the current.

This new historical phase of humanity's journey demands of Christians an adult faith, a spiritual maturity, rooted in the faithful following of Christ and his Church, capable of facing up to the numerous challenges with courageous calmness (cf. Veritatis Splendor, n. 88). It is this situation that, in short, emphasises and clearly brings to light the intrinsic missionary dimensions of the faith.

2. The Pontificate of John Paul II

In this new historical context the Pontificate of John Paul II represents a providential event. His is a missionary Pontificate. Like an itinerant catechist, "I have travelled all over the world in order to proclaim the Gospel, to strengthen the brothers in faith, to console the Church, to meet people". The Pope describes them as "journeys of faith". "They are likewise opportunities for travelling catechesis, for evangelical proclamation in spreading the Gospel and the apostolic Magisterium to the full extent of the world" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 63).

John Paul II, with his profound and extensive Magisterium and his extraordinary Pastoral Ministry, invites every person and all Nations to confidently open wide the doors to Christ, and he teaches us that the Church — each and every one of us — is called to proclaim his Name, to be present joyously and fearlessly to this "new world".

John Paul II has known how to put the mission of the Church at the centre of this new cultural context of humanity and has magisterially enunciated his principles in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio which, as the sub-title eloquently indicates, wishes to confirm the permanent validity of the Church's missionary mandate.

Dear brothers and sisters, this document is not limited to commemorate sic et simpliciter the 25th anniversary of the conciliar missionary Decree Ad Gentes. The Encyclical is the magna carta of modern mission.6 It is an essential text for coming to know the journey of the Church after the Second Vatican Council and for understanding the awareness that the Church has, through her Supreme Pontiff, of her evangelizing mission in today's world. The goals of the Encyclical are already clearly enunciated in the first two pages:

— To renew the Church's mission, because the "Faith is strengthened when it is given to others" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 2);

— To reaffirm evangelization as the "primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world";

— To clear up doubts about the mission ad gentes; to confirm in their commitment so many men and women dedicated to it and all those who help them; to foster missionary vocations; to give a fresh impulse to the mission properly so-called, inviting particular Churches, especially those of recent origin, to send forth and receive missionaries.

The concentrated and extensive postconciliar missiological discussion is not exempt from ambiguity; it has aroused in the Holy Father the desire to remind the Church of the urgency of the missionary mandate, to specify its doctrinal aspects and clarify its modalities for realization, to indicate who are its authorities and agents, and in which way all the members of the Church are called to participate in it.

At the centre of missionary activity is the proclamation of Christ, the awareness and experience of his love. Christ is the one Mediator between God and Man, the one Saviour of the world, where humanity, history and the cosmos meet its absolute meaning and are totally fulfilled (cf. nn. 411).

— Among the various activities connected with mission there is a hierarchy. In virtue of the missionary mandate from which the Church cannot escape, since this would deprive men of the "good news of salvation", all must tend towards proclaiming Jesus Christ. Interreligious dialogue, human promotion and inculturation are designated for the witness and proclamation of the faith, directed to revealing the Christian mystery and the fullness of new life (cf. nn. 52-58).

— Inculturation must be guided by two principles: "compatibility with the Gospel and communion with the universal Church" (n. 54).

— The Encyclical (cf. n. 33) also reestablishes the conceptual balance and the content between the mission ad gentes properly so-called (which has as its aim the peoples who do not yet believe in Christ), pastoral care (which is focused on the Christian communities fervent in faith and having suitable and solid ecclesial structures), and the "new evangelization" (which is addressed to Countries with ancient Christian roots or to entire groups of the baptized who have lost a living sense of the faith).

At the conclusion of the Year of Jubilee, the Holy Father wished to energetically reaffirm the motivations of the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio7 with the Pastoral Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte", in which he confirmed with a tone of joyful hope that "the Church therefore cannot forego her missionary activity among the peoples of the world. it is the primary task of the mission ad gentes to announce that it is in Christ, 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life' (Jn. 14:6), that the Nations find salvation" (n. 56).

The watchword of the Pope at the beginning of Third Millennium is to return to Christ, "to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ" (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 3). A more contemplative Church, able, that is, to vitally assimilate the beauty of the love of God which is manifested in the person of Christ, would be a Church that is holier, and as a consequence, more missionary. The Holy Father again strongly proposes the inseparable alliance of "holiness and mission". He points to holiness of life as the foundation on which the pastoral programme of every particular Church should be based, and he invites all Pastors to wholeheartedly propose this "high standard of ordinary Christian living" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 31).8

3. The Church in America and the mission ad gentes

John Paul II has always kept the Church in America at the centre of his pastoral ministry. "The Continent of hope" represents for the Holy Father the Catholic community that, in the present and in the future of the Church's life, has and will have a function of immense, decisive and universal importance.

To be equal to this responsibility, the Holy Father has called upon the Church to renew its Christian identity by means of the programme of a "new evangelization", at the same time inviting her to communicate the riches of her own faith beyond her borders.

The Pope has repeated this call in a kind of "crescendo"9 during his voyages in the American Continent, by that memorable pilgrimage to Mexico in 1979, which initiated the constant chain of his missionary voyages throughout the world, up to the most recent visit to Montreal, Mexico and Guatemala in 2002, on the occasion of World Youth Day and the canonization of Fr Pedro de San Jose Betancur, Juan Diego and the beatification of the Martyrs of San Francisco Cajonos.

At the conclusion of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, the Holy Father renewed this call, that I will describe rather as a "prophetic cry", inviting the particular Churches in America "to extend their missionary efforts beyond the bounds of the Continent", not "to keep for themselves the immense riches of their Christian heritage", to "take it to the whole world share it with those who do not yet know it" (n. 74).

The American Continent, especially Latin America, is a Continent the majority of whose population is Catholic. If the mission ad gentes is a task that is incumbent on every Christian by virtue of his or her baptism, this fundamental vocation radically challenges the particular Churches of America, with regard to essential requirements, coming from her very existence.

The history of the evangelization of America could be rejected if it were limited only to the new evangelization of the Continent. Between the mission ad gentes and the new evangelization, in reality there exists an inherent and indissoluble relationship,10 between its inspiration and support through commitment to universal mission (cf. Redemptoris Missio, n. 1). Without the mission ad gentes, the particular Churches would remain without an opening and a sense of universal existence, since even though they are territorially bound together they are, however, not bound spiritually. By their nature they must open themselves to the dimension of catholicity by means of the mission ad gentes (cf. Redemptoris Missio, n. 34). An evangelizing Church reaches its maturity when it is genuinely evangelizing. This is the logic of Catholic missionary activity, as the Latin-American Bishops recalled at Puebla11 and at Santo Domingo12, recommendations that were taken up, promoted and distributed in a widespread manner by the National Directions of the Pontifical Mission Societies and by CELAM, through its Missionary Department.13

This was the leitmotif of the preceding Latin American Missionary Congresses; this Congress faithfully gathers up their abundant and rich legacy. The Second American Missionary Congress, and it must again be recalled, follows the tradition and the trajectory of COMLA. These meetings of a continental nature, supported from their first providential beginnings by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, are celebrated with the clear fruits of faith and missionary generosity, in different cities of the Latin American territory.

4. The Second American Missionary Congress

As a continuation with the preceding First American Missionary Congress and Sixth COMLA, celebrated some months after the promulgation of the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in America14 and after the auspicious experience of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Church in America again takes its place in the enlightened horizon of universal mission.

Dear brothers and sisters, the "American hour" of the mission ad gentes has arrived! It is about a moment and also a "chronological" hour! We are speaking about today and now! We are affirming that the life of the Church in America is today the mission ad gentes.

And this is the moment to decisively and fearlessly welcome this challenge. Pastors who know how to commit themselves to the mission ad gentes, a dynamic expression of love that "from inter-ecclesial communion, opens out into a service that is universal" (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 49), will obtain, indeed in the immediate future, a profound renewal in their Christian communities, a growth in faith and an increase in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.

A pastoral strategy founded on missionary animation can profoundly renew the Christian life of our faithful people. The mission ad gentes, in fact, "renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentives" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 2). Is this not the example offered to us by the numerous particular Churches in America who are giving from their poverty and see themselves blessed by the gifts and bountiful fruits of the Spirit? As His Eminence, Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada, in his letter of convocation of the Congress, has fittingly indicated: "We know that the needs of our Churches are urgent; however, the urgency of the universal mission ad gentes is even greater" Caritas Christi urget nos! (II Cor 5:14).

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, it is urgent that the Church in America unites its efforts for first evangelization for the implanting of Christian communities among Nations that do not know Christ, and that is the majority of humanity.

The Continent of Asia merits special attention, where more than 3.7 billion people live (60 percent of the world's population) and where Catholics are scarcely 110 million (a meagre 3 percent of the Asian population), and half of the Catholics are concentrated in only one Country, the Philippines.

In many Asian Countries the Church is making first steps. A few months ago I was in Mongolia (an ex-communist Republic of 2.5 million inhabitants situated between Russia and China), for the episcopal consecration of the first Prefect Apostolic of Ulaanbaatar, Mons. Wenceslaw Padilla, a Filipino Scheut missionary. His Catholic community hardly amounts to 200 people. I'll say it again carefully, 200, not 200,000, not even 2,000! Particular Churches which are born in a simple way, but with great dynamism; Churches who need spiritual and material help from the whole Church.

The above-mentioned responsibility for universal mission, dear brothers and sisters, is already felt by many particular Churches in America, and it is necessary to form "the key element in the normal pastoral activity" of all, from the North and South of the Continent (cf. Redemptoris Missio, n. 83).

To achieve this, it is necessary that each one of us, each of our communities, renew their own life of faith in such a way that the evangelizing activity ad gentes may be the fruit of the primacy of grace and a life of holiness. The responsible revival of "missionary cooperation is rooted and lived, above all", the Holy Father reminds us, "in personal union with Christ. Only if we are united to him as the branches to the vine can we produce good fruit. Through holiness of life every Christian can become a fruitful part of the Church's mission" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 77).

There are many signs of the sanctifying action of the Spirit, signs of hope, that are a help in understanding that the life of the Church in America today is called with greater conviction to be at all times, the mission ad gentes:

— The witnesses of holiness, of the unconditional donation of many sons and daughters of the Church in America to the proclamation of the Gospel.

— The intense activity of missionary animation that the Pontifical Mission Societies carry out at the national, regional and diocesan levels for the mission ad gentes. Some Societies, I am thinking especially of the Holy Childhood Society, are growing and are developing a remarkable activity throughout the Continent.

— The unremitting missionary commitment of many Dioceses that, blessed by the Lord with a great number of vocations and resources, are not hesitating to share them with others who are in more need, both within and outside of the Country, or also beyond the borders of the Continent.

— The increase in quite a few parts of America of vocations, priestly, Religious and lay faithful (catechists, youth and family missionaries) dedicated to evangelization and mission.

— The missionary dynamism ad gentes of ecclesial movements and new communities, present in some numbers throughout the whole ecclesial American territory.

— The specifically ad gentes Institutes and Societies born in America, and the fruitful activity of missionary animation which is carried out for the above-mentioned missions. The emergence of various Diocesan Missionary Seminaries in the diverse Countries of America.

On the other hand, difficulties are not lacking, which in some way hold back this missionary impulse and which are important challenges to those of us who must cope with them. We will recall only some of them, those which closely affect the social and ecclesial reality of the Continent, especially of Latin America.

— A still inadequate missionary awareness. In some parts it is still erroneously maintained that the secular priest is ordained exclusively for his particular Church, and that he must not be concerned about the mission ad gentes, a task that is the responsibility of the religious clergy. There are some parts where they even have the idea that financial poverty and means give them the right to describe themselves as "passive missionary Churches", who must only be helped.

— The proliferation of numerous sects. Only a revitalized presence and a new missionary impulse from the Church, especially in the sectors most exposed to this influence, can help to deepen or to implant the roots of Catholic tradition. This challenge necessitates that "the Church be more and more communitarian and participatory, made up of ecclesial communities, family groups and bible circles, movements and ecclesial associations which render the parish a community of communities".15

— The manipulation on the part of some “ideologies” of the indigenous world, for an archaic, utopian vision of ethnic American Indians. In some cases, they pretended to "re-establish" ancient religions, polemically opposed to the Catholic Church, whose faith the majority of the above-mentioned people profess with a deep, simple and sincere faith.16 The Church "must devote special attention to those ethnic groups which even today experience discrimination" (cf. Ecclesia in America, n. 64).

— The need of greater communion between the south and the north of the Continent. "An increased cooperation between the Nations of America" (cf. Ecclesia in America, n. 2), supported and promoted by the Church, will not only contribute to the spiritual unity of the American Continent, but will also give a response to the challenges and present problems between the "north and south of the world".

Conclusion

Dear brothers and sisters, let us go forward in hope! We are living and acting as missionaries; let us feel responsible for the building of the Church in the Third Millennium!

The Second American Missionary Congress, in indicating the mandate of Christ to ail the particular Churches of the Continent, invites us once again to start out on the journey: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!" (Matt 28:19).

It is the same missionary mandate which "initiates us into the Third Millennium and urges us to share the enthusiasm of the very first Christians: we can count on the power of the same Spirit who was poured out at Pentecost and who still urges us on today to start out anew, sustained by the hope 'which does not disappoint'" (Rom 5:5; Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 58).

We recommend the fruits of the Second American Missionary Congress to the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of all America and Queen of the Apostles. May the Virgin, who has all men and women as her children, intercede for the Church in America, so that she may be a herald of the proclamation of salvation to all those who as yet do not know the love of the Divine Mercy.

Church in America, your life is Mission.


Notes

1 John Paul II has enriched us with the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in America, the evangelizing key for all Continents that is beginning to generate fruits of communion and solidarity in the integration of "one Church in one America". Cf. Secretary General of CELAM, Global Plan 2003-2007, Bogotα, 2003, 9.

2 Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, nn. 18-19; cf. Redemptoris Missio, n. 1. "Now that the Jubilee has ended, I feel more than ever duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the 20th century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 57).

3 John XXIII convoked the Council with these words, which manifest his global aim: "The Church today assists in a crisis now taking place in society. While humanity is at the turning point of a new era, tasks of an immense gravity and amplitude are awaiting the Church, as in the most tragic ages of her history. In fact, it is question of putting the modern world in touch with the vivifying and perennial energies of the Gospel" (Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis, 1962, n. 3).

4 "The Apostolic Letter Evangelii Nuntiandi provides the key for a concise reading of Vatican II; it carries out a discernment of the first phase of the Post-Council and indicates a way and a programme for the life and mission of the Church. It is centred on the evangelizing mission and emphasizes her multi-dimensionality so as to avoid all reductions; it will overcome false opposition between the withdrawing of total identity and opening the world out to degeneration and disintegration..., it is the source of the holiness, charity and unity of the Church.... Its principal fruit was the Puebla Conference" (G.M. Carriquiry Lecour, A Risk for Latin America, Florence, 2003, p. 233).

5 The phenomenon of globalization is the closer integration of all Countries and peoples of the world, the result of the enormous reduction of the cost of transport and communication, and the dismantling of the artificial barriers of revenues from goods, services, knowledge and (to a lesser extent) people by means of borders. Cf. General Secretary of CELAM, Global Plan 2003-2007, Bogota, 2003, 27-28.

6 J. Esquerda Bifet, Teologνa de la Evangelizaciσn, Madrid, 1995, 70-75; M. Zago, Gli Ambiti della Missione 'ad gentes' in AA.VV., Cristo, Chiesa, Missione, Roma, 1992, 167-185.

7 Missionary activity among peoples and human groups who are not yet evangelized remains necessary, particularly in certain parts of the world and in particular cultural contexts. It is clearly seen, then, that the mission ad gentes has become necessary everywhere in recent years" (John Paul II, To the Participants of the Symposium on the Occasion of the 10th Anniversary of 'Redemptoris Missio', 20 January 2001; L'Osservatore Romano, 31 January 2001, p. 5).

8 "At the dawn of the new millennium, I wanted to stress this aspect of the holiness of life, precisely as the master key to every apostolic project, which must have its centre and starting point in Christ, who is to be known, loved and imitated". John Paul II, To the Bishops of Paraguay during their ad limina Visit, 7 April 2001.

9 R. Ballan, El Valor de Salir, Lima, 1990, 29-78.

10 J. Lσpez-Gay, "The Relationship between the New Evangelization and the Mission ad gentes according to the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio”, Seminarium I, 1991, 91-105.

11 "The time has finally come for Latin America to strengthen mutual services among the particular Churches and to project herself beyond her own borders, ad gentes. It is true that we have need of missionaries. Nevertheless, we must give from our poverty" (cf. Latin American Bishops' General Conference, “Puebla”, n. 368).

12 "We can say with satisfaction that the challenges of the mission ad gentes proposed at Puebla have been assumed, starting from our poverty, sharing the riches of our faith, with which the Lord has blessed us; nevertheless, we acknowledge that missionary awareness of ad gentes is still insufficient and feeble" (IV General Conference of the Latin American Episcopacy, “Santo Domingo”, n. 125).

13 Latin American Episcopal Conference, Missions Department, Given from our Poverty, Bogotα, 1987.

14 Even though the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio is only quoted once in the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in America, we can say that the permanent validity of the mission ad gentes and its urgent application, in and by America, finds fitting resonance in n. 74 of the Exhortation.

15 IV General Conference of the Latin American Episcopacy, "Santo Domingo”, n. 142.

16 G.M. Carriquiry Lecour, op. cit., pp. 195-197.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
17/24 December 2003, page 7

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