by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Today, October 24th is designated as World Mission Day – 2021. Traditionally, the next to last Sunday in October is set aside for this essential dimension of evangelization.
When we speak of world mission, our minds naturally turn to those special Christian/Catholics – laity, religious, clergy and bishops – who leave home and country to preach the Gospel in areas where it is still unknown or poorly understood. This view of mission and missionaries has gradually expanded in the post-Vatican II era. Formerly the missionary vocation meant: 1. Establishing the Church; 2. Proclamation of the Gospel; 3. Done in “pagan lands”; and 4. Human Development – in that order of importance. Today the order is almost the exact reverse: 1. Transformation of the World; 2. Witness; 3. Dialogue; 4. Spirituality; and 5. Proclamation of the Gospel.
Several conclusions follow from this development. First, the conviction that God/Jesus has been actively present in what used to be called “missionary lands”. Secondly, that the task of today’s missionaries is primarily one of witness. And thirdly, the entire world is “mission territory”.
This new learning has created entirely new dimensions for understanding the missionary vocation. Each of us who embraces the Gospel of Jesus is called to witness, and when appropriate, preach it wherever we find ourselves in this world. The importance of this sea-change in understanding “missionary work” for example, views the United States as such a “missionary territory”.
Another exceptional learning – one particularly relevant for Pax Christi: the Church does not have a mission – the mission has a Church! The church (People of God) has as its primary function fostering the values of God’s reign in our time and place in history. We can state then: the mission has a Pax Christi.
As is his wonderful custom, Pope Francis has written a typically thoughtful letter marking this year’s World Mission Sunday.
First, he has chosen the theme for this anniversary. “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20), This opens rich vistas of challenges for each of us and for Pax Christi. In myriad ways we are called to acknowledge experiences of God in our lives. Each of us has our own story of continued insights and applications of the Gospel. Likewise our movement. This signifies the crucial importance of taking our own stories seriously and reverently. The worst thing that can happen, I believe, is for anyone or any movement to keep bottled “what we personally have seen and heard”. Our stories, however dramatic or ordinary, are sacred. They are how God has led each and all of us.
In this connection, the father of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutierrez, more than once said to us: “Your stories/experiences are the raw material for my theologizing.”
In his letter Pope Francis goes on to unpack various aspects of those vistas.
- A passionate desire to enter into friendly dialogue with everyone, just as they are.
- We have seen and heard and experienced that things can be different – “a future that awakens a faith capable of inspiring new initiatives and shaping communities of men and women who, by learning to accept their own frailty and that of others, promote fraternity and social friendships..
- The first Christians began the life of faith amid hostility and hardship … those experiences impelled them to turn problems, conflicts and difficulties into opportunities for mission. “The same holds true for us … The pandemic has brought to the fore and amplified the pain, the solitude, the poverty and the injustices experienced by so many people; there is an urgent need for the mission of compassion … for missionaries of Hope who can provide a prophetic reminder that no one is saved by themselves.”
The Pope concludes his letter for this occasion with a prayer: “May Mary, the first missionary disciple, increase in all the baptized the desire to be salt and light in our land.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.