A Pastoral Letter on the Church’s Mission In the New Millennium
“Go to the peoples of all nations and make them my disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to do everything I have taught you. I will be with you always even unto the end of the world.” (Mt. 28, 19-20).
Recalling this great commission of Jesus, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in February 1991 affirmed that the Lord’s words have a special resonance for us, the Church in the Philippines, since the Philippines is the country in Asia with the largest Catholic population. PCP II speaks of the Philippine Church as “a communion in a state of mission” because “the community of disciples does not exist only for itself… It exists for the world.” (102)
PCP II also reminded us that Pope John Paul II spoke with a special clarity when he said to the Philippine bishops in 1981, “There is no doubt about it: the Philippines has a special missionary vocation to proclaim the Good News, to carry the light of Christ to the nations.” And in January 1995, Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day called Catholics in the Philippines and Asia to proclaim Christ, his Gospel, his love to Asia. His renewed summons for the Church in the Philippines was in direct continuity with the often reiterated declaration of a special vocation to mission, specially in Asia, given by the Roman Pontiffs, (at least) from Pope Pius XI to our time: all the Popes of our time have spoken of this Philippine vocation-to-mission.
Then, in November 1999 at New Delhi, the Holy Father, promulgating his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, declared that the new millennium is the millennium for Asia, when we must proclaim Christ, his Gospel, his love, to billions of Asians who have not yet come to know Jesus.
With the foregoing as context, we, the Bishops of the Philippines, address this pastoral letter to Catholics in our country, as the new millennium of Christianity opens. Our letter looks forward to the National Mission Congress in Cebu this September 27 to October 1, which we hope and pray will be one of the most significant events of this Holy Year of Jubilee in our country.
PART ONE : THE MISSION SCENARIO
The Holy Father and the Asian Bishops tell us that this moment of history presents us with this amazing reality: about two-thirds of humanity today, i.e. some four billion people, make up the vast portion of the world which the Special Synod of Asia in 1998 included. Here live four billions of people, in an “intricate mosaic of many cultures, languages, beliefs and traditions”. Christians make up only about three percent of this truly immense mass of humankind, only some 125 millions. We could say that, roughly speaking, 97% of Asia has not yet come “to the knowledge of Christ and His Gospel of God’s love and grace.” Thus the task of the Church in Asia, as she crosses the threshold of the new millennium, is to proclaim God’s Word to Asian peoples, “to tell the world of His love“. That is, to make known to our brothers and sisters in Asia, to share with them as gifts we have received, the person of Jesus, the grace of His Spirit, His good news of unbounded compassion and love for sinful humanity, of communion in God’s own life, in truth and freedom, in solidarity and peace.
Of the 125 million Christians in Asia, some 70 millions are Filipinos, that is, more than one-half are from our country. It is clear that the challenge of proclaiming Christ in Asia is a summons addressed first of all to us, to share the gift of faith that we ourselves received. It is a challenge we cannot refuse: surely at this moment of history the Lord is calling us. “The harvest is great, the laborers are few. Come with me to the golden fields of harvest.” The hour of that challenge is now. Now is the kairos, the hour of the Lord’s call. And “the grace of the hour” is now.
We believe that, surely, there was a divine providence at work in our turbulent history, leading our people through centuries of struggle and suffering to the present hour. Through this, Filipinos kept their Faith alive, enduring and even joyful, devoted to the Jesus of Bethlehem, Calvary and Easter morning, “in love with our Mother Mary” (pueblo amante de Maria). With deep gratitude we wish to cite the labors of the foreign missionaries who were God”s instruments in planting the seed of the Faith among our people. So that now, as the 21 st century begins, despite all the forces that have tried to destroy the Faith we have received and made our own, we can yet clearly hear the summons which the Lord of history and the Church address to us, showing us the immensity of Asian multitudes, and bidding us to ” tell the world of His love.”
PART TWO: EVERY CHRISTIAN IS A MISSIONARY
Every Christian is called to take part in the mission of Jesus, and the mission the Church has received from him. Baptism inserts us into Christ and into the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Baptism inserts us into the Christ-life, calls us to his discipleship, calls to take part in Christian mission to the world in our time. Every baptized Christian is thus called to believe in the Gospel of Jesus, to make it his/her own, to respond to it and to live it out integrally in his/her life.
This call is also a call to the community, which the Spirit of Jesus indwells, the community which, in each one’s own place and time, is Christ’s Body, the Church. In this community one learns to commit himself/herself to the work of Christ and his Church in the world; one is called to respond to his/her own vocation within God’s plan of salvation. Each is called into the mission of Jesus, and under the Spirit, one is invited to take part in God’s redeeming work in history. Thus Vatican II (Ad Gentes, 2) teaches that mission is intrinsic to Christianity, and that to be Christian is to be missionary.
Every Christian is thus asked to follow Jesus-in-mission. Jesus himself described His own mission in the terms we find in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 4, 18-19):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Here Jesus gives us his own personal job-description, so to speak; this is his own mission statement. This text is also a basic mission statement for every Christian, because our mission is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus-in-mission.
The “great commission” of Matthew 28: 19-20, the solemn sending forth of the Eleven, is addressed first of all to the leadership of the Church. However, Christians of all times have seen in this classic Gospel text a missionary mandate addressed to the whole Church. It tells the disciples to “go”, to move from where they are, to “the nations, the peoples”. It tells them to “teach, baptize, make disciples.” And as Jesus says “go”, he promises, “I am with you always, until the end of time.”
Here then are two great mission texts found in the Gospel. The message and meaning of both Matthew 28 and Luke 4 must be heard by all of us, for they describe what mission means for all. Both texts challenge us to continue the mission which Jesus received from his Father and which he hands on to us, for our own time and place, in this moment of human history.
Mission, then, cannot but be “outgoing”. It is a “reaching-out ministry”: in Jesus’ own life, his ministry was his exercise of mission. He went first to his own people to proclaim the message of the Kingdom to them, reaching out to all of them, especially to “the lost sheep of Israel”. He went to the nearby towns and places, “so that I can proclaim the message there also, for this is what I came out to do” (Mark 1, 38). But “outgoing and reaching out” do not have a primarily geographical meaning, as if there is mission only if it takes place in “faraway places with strange-sounding names”. Missionary activity can (at least in a wider sense) take place wherever one is situated, as long as there is a reaching out to others for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
We want to insist that every Christian is a missionary by his/her baptism and confirmation. What we do, at home or in “other places” at the service of the Kingdom of God can be called both ministry and mission, mission at least in its most fundamental sense. In such mission, we actualize the truth that we are bearers of Christ and his Gospel wherever we may live and work, and that we are keepers of our brothers and sisters in the love of Christ.
Such mission is possible for all, for lay Christians specially, whatever their state of life and personal situation might be, even if they can not engage “full time” in it, even if they have not received ordination in the Church, even if they do not live the life of the vows of religious. The Spirit calls all the baptized to participate in the ministry and mission of Jesus. The Spirit inspires all who will open their hearts, calls them to let Christ enter into their daily lives and activities. The Spirit sets them free to join in renewing and transforming the milieux in which they live and work, and the greater world of humankind around us, – to the measure of their gifts, their capabilities and possibilities, according to the grace given to each one. As sons and daughters of the Church we are bidden to exercise and to share the Faith, Hope and Love that are God’s gifts to us, through the Christ-life he has given to us.
PART THREE: THE CHURCH IN THE PHILIPPINES – CALLED TO MISSION.
The Federation of Asian Bishops” Conferences (FABC) has for more than 25 years tried to articulate again and again what response the Church in Asia should give to the Lord”s call to mission. It is the purpose of the National Mission Congress this year that we, the Church in the Philippines, may gather together at Cebu and undertake a life-task for this Kairos, this hour of grace given us as the People of God journeying with our Asian brothers and sisters toward his kingdom.
We as Church are called to be in our part of the globe “the universal sacrament of salvation”, sent out by the Lord on a mission to the whole of the human race (Lumen Gentium 13). The Church universal is Catholic because of this mission. But each particular or local Church, being Catholic, shares in the same mission. Hence to each local Church the mandate is also given to proclaim Jesus’ message and invitation to give living witness of God’s love in Christ Jesus, and to share the gifts it has received from the Lord. For the Church in the Philippines, for every one of our local Churches, there is a new insistence and a new urgency to fulfill this mandate.
We believe that in recent years the Spirit has awakened among us a new awareness of the Church’s missionary task, and has also poured out his gifts to begin to realize it in deed and in truth. For in recent decades, a constantly increasing number of our brothers and sisters, – priests, religious brothers and sisters, laypeople, – have left our shores to share their Faith with peoples of other lands, in every continent on the face of the earth. The Mission Society of Philippines has sent several priests as missionaries in many parts of the world. Many Filipino priests, brothers and sisters belonging to different religious congregations as well as diocesan priests are now working in the foreign missions. Several lay missionaries, both men and women, who underwent training through the Catholic Lay Mission Program, are also working in the foreign missions. New movements of faith such as the covenant communities, initiated by the Filipino laity under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have spread to particular churches of other countries and have surely contributed to the efforts of evangelization of those sister churches. Our overseas workers have in so many instances become missionaries, bringing the Gospel and Faith where these have not been present, renewing and reactivating Christian life and practice where these have been in decline. Through Radio Veritas Asia, based in Manila, the saving message of Christ has reached millions of people living in many parts of the vast continent. May we not see in these events the hand of the Lord, and the movement of his Providence?
It is imperative then that we – all of us – renew our own understanding of mission. We urge most especially the formators of our seminarians, the candidates for the priesthood, to help the future leaders of the Church to develop a personal and profound understanding of mission during their priestly formation. Our young priests should experience life in the missions either here or abroad so that they can become effective agents of renewal in mission consciousness among the faithful.
Mission is the proclamation of the Good news of salvation given by the Father in Christ Jesus. It is about the forgiveness, the communion, peace and hope Christ brought to us for all time, and unto everlasting life. Mission is the sharing of the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, the ultimate triumph of life over death, of grace and glory over evil and sin in the new Jerusalem which will be given to us by God. But mission does not proclaim only God’s victory in the life to come, but also the redemption of time and history in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Mission is about the presence and action of the power of the Spirit of Jesus in the struggle against sinfulness in the heart of humanity, in individual lives and in the relationships and structures of injustice, domination and alienation which sin establishes in society. In our present context mission will therefore mean the elimination of graft and corruption and the active pursuit for peace. For mission is about creating and transforming communities that shall live in God’s shalom, communities of truth and justice, of solidarity, freedom and love.
PART FOUR: SOME REFLECTIONS ON OUR CALL TO MISSION.
1. The Mission of Jesus: Since Christian mission is a “following in the footsteps of Jesus”, we need to return to the person and ministry of Jesus as the Gospels reveal him to us. If we lose sight of Jesus, we may lose our way. Perhaps we may simply remember that Jesus’ mission was rooted in his “incredible intimacy” with Abba, his Father. All mission begins in that experience of Abba, in that unique relationship of Jesus with his Father in heaven. It is there, then, in our own relationship with the Father, that our mission is rooted; we may never forget this. This is one reason why prayer is itself the fountainhead of mission.
Jesus, “the one sent by the Father,” (cf. John 4,34; 20,21) is the first missionary. His mission is, under the Spirit’s guidance, constantly concerned with the concrete needs of people’s real lives. (Cf. Luke 4, 16-19) Then, we are not to forget that Jesus’ major attention was focused on the formation of his disciples. As we read the Gospels we realize that in a true sense this seemed to be his over-riding, even his primary concern. It tells us that we are also called to give primacy to formation for mission, not only for those who will “go abroad”, but for all of us who will “stay at home”. We must form true missionary attitudes within our families and communities, precisely because for most of us, our very living-out of Christian life, our witness, will be our real missionary labor! Being constantly guided by the Spirit must be a radical attitude in our lives. In choosing priorities for our action, we see that Jesus gave so much of his attention to healing the sick, to comforting the afflicted and the sorrowing, to showing mercy to sinners, to turning to children and youth, to a “preferential love for the poor and the little ones” in society, the marginalized and “left out”, for those who were powerless and needing compassion. Mission history’s most inspiring pages teach us of Christian missionaries acting as Jesus did, and in our time we have the unforgettable figure of Mother Teresa of Calcutta to tell us that this manner of mission inspires and moves even the most secularized sectors of modern society.
2. Mission in Asia: There is a sense in which mission in Asia today will reproduce in a new way the missionary mind and heart of Jesus, – that “mind which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2, 6 ff.): the self-abnegation of his entire life, his acceptance – even his choice – of a life of seeming insignificance and powerlessness in the eyes of the world; his acceptance of failure, of the final rejection of his work, offered in self-sacrificing love. Jesus’ mission was met with persecution, it ended in suffering, a mission which seemingly led nowhere, — only to the cross. Jesus the missionary met opposition and betrayal with unchanging goodness and gentleness, rooted in his utter reliance and unshakable trust in his Father. Today, in her mission to Asia, the Church will not come in power and wealth. The Church on mission will have to do mission in relative poverty. The Philippine Church, being a Church for the poor, will have “to glory in weakness” and simplicity, so that the real power of God may be revealed. The Filipino missionary will not have great prestige or cultural superiority. He/she must draw instead on the resources, which God alone can give: faith, hope and love, the resources of the Spirit, the virtues and gifts of “the Christ-like God.” But such was the mission of Jesus. Let this be a special mark of the Philippines’ missionary endeavor, this likeness to Jesus, poor and lowly of heart.
3. Some Partners in Mission: Mission, in poverty and humility, following the footsteps of Jesus, will draw much of its strength and power from the prayers and sacrifices of those who will be “stay-at-home missionaries”. Here we see the necessary partnership of every one in the “sending Church” with those whom they send. Here we also see the missionary task given to contemplatives, to the sick and aged, to children.
Contemplatives must realize that “the new age of mission” is for them also a new challenge to generosity. Following the footsteps of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a contemplative, who is declared a Patroness of the Missions, they are called to accompany the many missionary activities carried out by those who will “go forth” on missionary journeys and undertake missionary labors. They must renew their faith that their prayer and sacrifices can, in the communion of saints and by the power of the Spirit, be of great support to those who are proclaiming the name and gospel of Jesus to “other peoples”.
The sick, who offer their illness and suffering for the Church’s missionaries, have a privileged part in missionary endeavor. They are, as the Holy Father has often said, “the strong ones”: their self-offering and sacrifices generate much strength from “the power of Jesus’ resurrection” for those who toil in the Lord’s harvest.
Similarly, children – specially those in our Catholic schools – can be taught again to offer prayers and sacrifices for their brothers and sisters in the missions. The awakening of missionary consciousness and zeal among young people, once so fruitfully done in years gone by, can be renewed. Parents should inculcate in their children a mission-awareness by giving them information about the missions, by teaching them to pray for the missions and by giving them the example of giving financial support to missionaries. In this way missionary consciousness may come alive again in Christian families and in Christian schools, for otherwise, how can the baptized learn that “every Christian is a missionary”?
4. Overseas Migrant Filipinos: We are also to remember that PCP-II stressed “the missionary potential of Filipino migrant workers abroad.” (108) It noted that “the wave after wave of Filipinos [who] have sought work in other countries” have produced witnesses “through their religiosity and piety wherever this is possible for them”. However, to be effective missionaries these overseas migrant workers should be first evangelized themselves.
5. Inculturation: Our own missionary work must foster authentic inculturation within the cultures of Asian peoples to whom Jesus and his Gospel are to be proclaimed; we do not want to repeat the imposition of alien cultural forms in worship, lifestyle and ministry, as was so often done in the past. Creative inculturation in our own communities will instill attitudes of that catholicity of the Church, which is the source and end term of missionary inculturation. Thus we hope that Filipino missionary endeavor will bring forth a genuine flowering of inculturated communities, alive to both past and present culture, but also attuned to the changing cultures of our modern and post-modern world. True inculturation, our Asian theologians have repeatedly taught, is really the building up of an authentically local Church for its own time.
6. Inter-religious Dialogue: Mission in Asia will call for new consciousness and knowledge regarding other religious traditions here in this continent in which almost all the great religions of humanity have been born. One of the “new things” of mission in Asia will be the demand for a deepened understanding of other religious communities (specially the Islamic), their religiosity and their theologies. Attitudes of genuine respect and reverence for others’ beliefs and spiritualities must precede and accompany all inter-religious dialogue and all mission. The Church’s authentic teaching on the relation of Jesus Christ and of the Church herself, to other religions and their traditions as well as a personal experience of living with people of other religions must become, at least in some measure, part of the Christian formation of Asian and Filipino Catholics in the years to come.
7. Blessed Pedro Calungsod: We cannot end these reflections without speaking of the great gift given to our people on March 5 of this year: the beatification of Pedro Calungsod, the young – 17-year old – martyr from the Cebu archdiocese. Calungsod gave his life as a missioner of the Gospel in Guam on 2 April 1672. We believe it was a special favor of Divine Providence that the beatification of such a young person who died a martyr’s death several hundred years ago, should take place at the beginnings of this Jubilee Year, as the Third Millennium begins, – the millennium the Pope has called the ‘Asian millennium’, when Jesus Christ must be proclaimed to Asia. Modern missionaries must be aware that mission work is as difficult and dangerous today as in the past. Like Pedro Calungsod, San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino Saint, suffered martyrdom for the Faith. Most recently, Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, a missionary in our country, gave up his life for the Faith. Like these three valiant Filipinos, all our missionaries must be ready to endure many trials and hardships including martyrdom for the sake of Christ.
We have written this pastoral letter as we prepare for the National Mission Congress. This congress will be our united response, as the People of God in the Philippines, to the great challenge of Ecclesia in Asia: we want to begin the millennium by pledging that our local Churches will be truly missionary in spirit and in action, that we will try to realize, every one of us, our call to be missionaries, in our own land, and in our great Asian continent. We want to promise the Lord, that we as Christian Filipinos will renew our efforts to “tell the world of his love.” We invite above all our beloved young people, to whom Our Lord today turns in a special way, to pledge themselves and their lives to give a living and shining witness to Jesus and his Gospel of truth and love.
We end by invoking Mary, the Mother of the Lord, to accompany us each day as we pray and prepare for the Mission Congress. We, the pueblo amante de Maria, do this with immense confidence and hope. As Mary was, in our history, truly and indisputably the Morning Star of our own evangelization, so we know she will go before us, as the Star of the Dawn of the new springtime of the Faith in our continent, and in the whole world itself. To her we pray for all the people of our land, and all the peoples of Asia, “Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Oh clement, oh loving, oh sweet Virgin Mary!”
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
+ORLANDO B. QUEVEDO, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
5 July 2000
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