Talk of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, CBCP President
Day 5 of the 2nd National Mission Congress
Delivered via the Facebook page and Youtube channel
of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Mission
Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for inviting me to share some thoughts on the new mission situations in the Philippines. I hope you don’t mind that I revised the title a little bit. I changed the word “missionary” to “mission”. I just wanted to emphasize that mission situations are those that call for missionaries.
It is important to begin by defining the new mission situations in the Philippines within a present day setting that I would qualify in three ways: first, as postcolonial, second as post-conciliar, and hopefully also post-pandemic.
Within a postcolonial present-day setting, the Church's appreciation of the new mission situations requires a humble admission that some of the missionary methods of the past should be consciously repudiated in the present, and foremost among these is that conscious instrumentalization of the Christian faith for other goals that may have nothing to do with the gospel, such as the furthering of colonial interests.
At the risk of being anachronistic in the postcolonial setting, it is hard to apply the term “evangelization” in an unqualified way to the process that brought about the Christianization of the natives of these islands. Why? Because we are historically aware that what achieved the submission of the natives to Christianity was the work of missionaries backed up by mercenary conquistadors with a colonialist agenda. No doubt, some seeds fell on rich soil, but the method of sowing is the kind that we would rather not do again in our present circumstances.
Now within that post-conciliar, present based setting we recognize the second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) as the most important move of the local Church towards a Philippine ecclesial appropriation of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).
Pope Francis’ advocacy for greater synodality in the Church is a reaffirmation of Vatican II’s mission for the Universal Church, and PCP II’s vision for the local Church. I consider his conscious promotion of communion, participation and mission, to be a most appropriate approach to the missionary work of evangelization.
Now as regards the post pandemic, or how this global health crisis may have opened up new frontiers for mission, since it is not over yet, let me reserve that for my last point.
NEW MISSION SITUATIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES
When we speak about identifying new mission situations in the Philippine setting, I take that to mean that we are in a constant search for new fertile grounds on which we can carry out our mandate to sow the seeds of the Kingdom of God, where they can properly germinate, grow and bear truth. For all we know, as the Marcan parable would put it, some of the seeds that have been previously sown may have failed because they had fallen on footpaths, on rocky ground, or may have been choked up by the thorns. We may look back and say in conscience, “We could have done better if only we had thought of at least preparing the ground before sowing the seeds.”
Now let me relate synodality and evangelization. Thanks to Pope Francis, we have found the less threatening word for the missionary work of evangelization, and I’m referring to the term “synodality” or “walking on the way together”.
Proselytization and Evangelization
Understandably, the term evangelization has a threatening effect for some countries because it is loaded with the historical background of colonialism. In most countries in Asia, where we are dealing with multi-religious and multi-cultural contexts, people, you know, tend to be suspicious of “evangelists”. I remember this was the reason why I myself was not able to get a visa at the Indian Embassy many years ago, the first time I attempted to travel to India. I had been invited to participate in a theological forum on New Evangelization on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II. The invitation was from a theological school in Bangalore (also known as Bengaluru – the capital and the largest city of the Indian state of Karnataka.). When I showed the formal invitation at the Indian Embassy, the person processing my application at the consulate started to interrogate me about the purpose of my visit. He asked me to explain what this “new evangelization” thing was all about and what my involvement was in it. The man ended by saying, “Sorry, no visa for you. We do not welcome evangelizers in India.” I was shocked because I had never before been denied a visa in any country. Later I was told by some Filipinos that I should have simply asked for a tourist visa and said “I just wanted to visit India.” Apparently, they equate the word “evangelizer” with Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians who are aggressively proselytizing Hindus and Muslims in India. Even China, you know, Vietnam, Indonesia and other Asian countries share in that suspicious attitude towards foreign missionaries. For many people, evangelization is the same as colonization. They know from history that colonizers supported the Christian missionaries because they were convinced that Christianising the natives was the easiest and most effective way of colonizing them.
Some Filipino nationalist historians usually refer to this as the symbiotic relationship between “the sword and the cross” during the Spanish colonial regime, or “the Bible and the rifle” during the American colonial regime. You know, and of course in American colonial regime introduced mainline Protestantism into the country and brought in some Protestant missionaries as well.
Francis himself speaks pejoratively of the term “proselytization” as a method of evangelization in many ways. Some methods of missioning during the colonial period were actually worse than proselytizing, especially those that had no qualms of conscience about forcing a religion on natives as a means for political subjugation. That may not have been the motive of the missionaries themselves. I know, but it was the main agenda or the conquistadores. Proselytization through mass baptisms and mass indoctrination to the Christian religion is definitely not what we understand by evangelization.
According to Pope Francis, you know he even calls it “something else”, “You know, proselytization, that is something else,” he says. You can indeed “Christianize” people without necessarily evangelizing them. For Pope Francis, evangelization is more about synodality, about being on the way together. It is about deciding together which way to go, which direction to take in our common journey.
The Emmaus Journey
The best biblical text for this is the Lucan story about the recent Christ appearing as a stranger to two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35). Those two men were actually escaping. They were running away from Jerusalem, which they had associated with a failed project of a failed Messiah. Saint Luke gives us a good template for mission in his description of the stranger’s moods first. He drew near to them, walked with them, joined their conversation, and listened to their tragic story, along the way. He allowed them first to express to Him their griefs and their aspirations. Only after that did he begin to open to them the scriptures in order to help them make sense of their traumatic experience in Jerusalem. Saint Luke tells us how these men by just walking and listening attentively to the Messiah, incognito, began to feel like their souls had been rekindled with hope, and they had begun to understand why things had happened the way they happened. He also narrates how this new found friend on the way whom they wanted to host, who was the one who ended up playing the host for them and breaking the first morsel of bread for them. It was supposedly a gesture that finally opened their eyes and allowed them to recognize Him through the breaking of the bread. First, he entered into communion with them, and then he vanished from their sight. This is the text that best describes to us Jesus’ own pedagogy for mission. There is nothing triumphalistic about it. He simply draws near, walks with, and enters into a conversation with fellow travellers on the way.
You know, this reminds me very much of the experience of pilgrims who meet each other along the Camino de Compostela in Spain, and spontaneously develop a friendship that deepens into a kind of spiritual bond that enables them to find some light as they travel on the way searching their hearts for their lives through destination. The stranger who turns out to be the Risen Lord eventually disappears after rerouting their journey. By walking with them “on the way”, that synodality, He brings about communion, participation and mission. For Pope Francis, that is essentially what evangelization must be about. It is about synodality. Jesus coming into our lives as a stranger who walks with us on the way.
Now let me proceed to the main objective of this session, which is to articulate what I consider to be the new mission situations in the Philippines. Summed up in seven points, some of them are not necessarily new as such, but they are situations that might require some novelty in our mission approaches:
First, Reorienting Traditional Parishes towards Mission to the Peripheries;
Second, Basic Ecclesial Communities and the Mission to Build Basic Human Communities;
Third, Preparing Catholic OFWs for Mission Abroad;
Fourth, Shifting Missionary Paradigms: From Inculturation to Intercultural Dialogue;
Fifth, New Ministries for New Mission Situations;
Sixth, Lay Participation in the Churches Mission as Agents of Renewal in Society; and
Seventh, How the Pandemic Opened the Cyberspace and the Digital World as a New Mission Situation.
Reorienting Traditional Parishes
Well, because we practically equate mission with “missio ad gentes”, we have tended to ignore the fact that the people we are being sent to, need not be very far from us. They may just be around us, out there in the margins, in the periphery society. People who are treated by most modern societies as if they did not exist at all. Our present-day parish communities, you know, have a strong tendency to deteriorate into old and tired institutions that are on a “maintenance mode”, and have been “parochialized” in the negative sense of the word. They tend to cater mainly to a minority of Church-going traditional Catholics, whose homes are situated within the vicinity of the parish church, while the majority who live in the margins of the parish remain uninvolved. The call to redirect the attention of the “church-going Catholics” outward to the unchurched Catholics is now becoming a new mission situation in the Philippine Church. No wonder the Pope’s invitation to “go out to the peripheries” during his 2015 visit, struck a deep chord in the hearts of Filipino Catholics. Only through a missionary reorientation of our traditional parish communities towards the peripheries can we get them to outgrow parochialism, or what Pope Francis calls “self-referentiality”.
In our Diocese in Kalookan, we have made our humble attempts to do this by establishing what we call “mission stations” and “mission centers” in the urban poor communities that surround our traditional parishes. Although most of the people in our slum communities also identify themselves as Catholics, one might classify them must be “unchurched type”, who do not really count themselves as included in the regular parishes that normally cater to the “church-going type”. The “Churched Catholics” come mostly from the vicinity of the centro, where the “parishes” are geographically situated. In most instances, those who count themselves as “regular parishioners” are locals who distinguish themselves from the new settlers from other places. On the other hand, the “unchurched type” of Catholics are usually local migrants coming from the provinces, where most of them also lived in the peripheries as laborers or as landless agricultural workers.
Margins of the Church
Those in the margins of society, almost always, are also in the margins of the church. This despite PCP II’s goal of growing into a Church of the Poor, for lack of ordained diocesan priests to deploy in these places, we in Kalookan have relied on full time missionaries from Lay Renewal Movements and consecrated missionary congregations who had signified their willingness to partner with us in attending to these new mission frontiers in the peripheries. Since the priority is not immediately to build parishes, but basically ecclesial communities, in many instances, full time lay individuals missionaries are more equipped in laying the foundations for community building, because they are not so preoccupied yet with the typical parochial duties of parish priests. Nevertheless, these mission stations remain connected to their mother parishes, and are able to impact the parish community positively towards redirecting their attention outwardly to the peripheries.
The parish priests often get invited by the mission chaplains to celebrate Masses for them in the streets and covered courts, and provide for their sacramental needs. They are also able to bring along lay volunteers from the centro, engaged in parish ministries, to work on forming new volunteers for these mission stations, for traditional church ministries like Liturgical Ministries, Formation Ministries and Social Action Ministries. In this way, the traditional parishes have gradually reoriented to the peripheries and get to participate in mission.
This reorientation has also been very effective in counteracting the disease of “clericalism” that causes the stunting of the laity in the traditional parishes in terms of communion, participation and mission. You know it is important to note that it is usually the priests who are already oriented towards a more participatory church who would tend to go beyond delegating nearly consultative roles and functions to the traditional councils like PPC, Parish, Pastoral Council, Parish Finance Council, Chapel Pastoral Council. Have you noticed they’re all councils? They are the ones who would be more open to sharing some executive roles or functions to the laity.
Within every council, we would usually have executive committees that do not need to consult the parish priest when it has to do with implementing pastoral plans that have already been approved in pastoral assemblies, in the spirit of synodality. In most other clericalized parishes, these councils usually cannot even hold meetings without the parish priest around. They tend to function in the mode of the Pre-Vatican II mandated organizations that will do only what they are “mandated” to do by the clerics.
But in parishes where councils are already oriented towards PCP II’s goal of renewed integral evangelization, the laity usually get more involved in pastoral assemblies. actively participating in the goal setting, in the setting of pastoral objectives, and in the formulation of short term and long-term pastoral plans as well as in implementing these plans. You know these augurs very well with Pope Francis’ called for greater synodality within the Church.
The Mission to Build Basic Human Communities
One of the big challenges to building (Basic Ecclessial Communities) BECs in the urban poor setting is the growing sense of individualism, even among the urban poor. It is not unusual, you know, even for people living in slum areas to be strangers to their neighbours, in spite of their proximity, physical proximity to one another. And this is partly caused economically by poverty and the “survival mode” in which they find themselves as they adjust to the urban setting.
Many of them remain as transient, and they move from place to place because of unstable jobs and their preference for places close to their workplaces. Another factor is their cultural alienation, as local migrants in their host communities. Getting integrated in this “new communities” often comes as a big challenge for lack of shared ethnicity, lack of shared vernacular languages, or shared cultures having been uprooted by their life circumstances from their islands or their provinces, or their regions of origin. Usually, the only common denominator that could connect them to some of the locals is their shared poverty. The diversity often also includes religious affiliations and degrees of exposure to such religions. The additional challenge for unchurched Catholics living in the peripheries, is the fact that they are often surrounded by neighbours who might also not share their traditional Catholic religious worldview, even if they also identify themselves as Catholic. They expressed their catholicity, basically through popular religious beliefs and practices that are outwardly Catholic, such as their veneration of images of saints on their home altars.
You know, in an article I wrote recently on Basic Ecclesial Communities, I pointed out that our BECs are not yet truly ecclesial, nor truly “Christian”, if they are able to live and promote a communitarian life only with fellow Catholics, if they are not able to serve as catalysts of change in society. I would expect them to promote, what I would call “Basic Human Communities”, meaning that they do not keep only to themselves, like little “isolated ghettos” that are too assertive of their difference from other Christians or other communities of faith. Otherwise, they will just end up replicating the same parochialism and self-referentiality that is typical of most of our old and tired institutions. They will be more of the same. They will hardly serve as a ferment of renewal in the church.
In this regard, the thoughts that Pope Francis has laid out in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti can be of great relevance. Please take note, Pope Francis encourages Roman Catholic Christians to promote what he calls “solidarity” and “social friendship”; and how best can we participate in this undertaking then, by mobilizing precisely those who have been disenfranchised by the antique weighted models, those who have been relegated in the margins of society. Who else would be in the best position to take the lead in redesigning better and more humane societies than those who have been excluded by the old system?
The Call to Mission for Our OFWs
To what extent has the local Philippine church grown from a “mission receiving church” to a “Mission Sending Church”? Although we have also sent countless Filipino religious missionaries in many countries abroad, it is important to recognize that the deployment of millions of Catholic OFWs in many countries abroad has likewise created a new mission situation ad gentes. Pope Francis has referred to them jokingly, as “smugglers of the faith” or “contrabandistas de fe” in Spanish.
Missions used to be spearheaded mainly by missionary religious congregations with OFWs. We have lay Filipino Catholics who informally assumed an “accidentally missionary role” in the countries in which they find themselves. Their quiet presence and humble forms of service that they render to their host countries constitute a strong evangelical form of witnessing.
Speaking to Filipino migrant Catholics gathered together in Rome to celebrate the 500th Year, Christianity, Pope Francis urged the Filipinos, and let me quote directly from him, “to persevere in the work of evangelization.” He said, “The Christian proclamation that he received needs constantly to be brought to others.” He also expressed how this could be carried out more concretely by asking us “to care for those who are hurting and living on the fringes of life.” (There is your word “periphery” again.) In that gathering, Pope Francis warmed the hearts of our Catholic OFWs when he said “you received the joy of the gospel and this joy is evident in your people, in your eyes, on your faces, in your songs, and in your prayers, in the joy with which you bring your faith to other lands.” He also humoured us by referring to OFWs as “smugglers of the faith”, because he said, “wherever they go to work, they saw the faith” and he regards their “discreet and hardworking presence” as “a testimony of faith through humble, hidden, courageous and persevering presence”.
Well, this gift of our migrant Filipino Catholics, especially OFWs who are becoming our new missionaries, is at the same time of challenge. It is no doubt a gift because they are now bringing new life to the Catholic faith in the countries where churches have become empty and the faith has grown cold. They also represent the Church of the poor, since many of them come from the poorer sectors of the Philippine society, who have been forced to leave their country in search of decent means of employment for their families. They have also usually brought with them their popular religious practices and devotions, like Santo Niño, Nazareno, Simbang Gabi, Pabasa, Peñafrancia, Perpetual Help, etc.
This call to mission for our OFWs is likewise a challenge, like I said, according to, well, according to the Pope himself, because our Catholic OFWs usually come with practically no preparation for this missionary role. One of my wishes, therefore, as a Bishop in my own diocese, is to take very seriously the faith formation that is provided by our Basic Ecclesial Communities among the urban poor. Since most of the prospective OFWs who will find themselves as “accidental missionaries” will be coming from among them.
SHIFTING MISSIONARY PARADIGMS: FROM INCULTURATION TO INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE
The new missionary situation in a postcolonial and postconciliar setting has taught us to shift paradigms about the work of evangelization. Before the missionaries can presume to bring God to the people in their mission places, they must invade there first and foremost to find God among them. The seeds of the Gospel can grow only on the fertile soil of basic good will, and we don’t have a monopoly of that good will. From our former efforts to inculturate the faith, as if it were coming from a vacuum, now we are spontaneously shifting to new missionary approaches, which we might describe as intercultural dialogue, one that can be mutually enriching for both missionaries and the people they are being sent to.
Christianity, as it is presently lived by Filipinos, is partly already a product of a long process of intercultural encounters between the native worldviews and the foreign missionaries that introduced the Christian faith to them. Christianity has taken root in the native culture and spirituality and evolved as an altogether unique expression of our own version of the Christian faith. Obviously, as in the Parable of the Sower, not all the seeds sold bear fruit for the Kingdom. The more humane and proselytizing approach to evangelization, presupposes the willingness to make space for mutual accommodation and for intercultural dialogue. The basic exchange of good will becomes the fertile ground for evangelization. The recognition that at the very base, the strangers can be our friends too. That they are as capable as the missionaries are, of love, care and compassion. Mutual accommodation gives one the space to interpret the fate of the other, whether rightly or wrongly, in their own terms. After all, the natives have no other way of interpreting the world view that their foreign guests bring with them than in their own indigenous worldview and culture.
Accommodation makes way for indigenization and hopefully for appropriation. It is a process that is of course fraught with tensions because one or the other, may act vehemently to the manner of appropriation as wrong, disrespectful, blasphemous, syncretistic, or perhaps, even outright heretical. Isn’t this the case with our popular religious practices, including the exaggerated penances through self-flagellation and literal crucifixion carried out as “panata”? It is these healthy intercultural dialogues that paves the way for the emergence of new forms of mutual accommodation and appropriation.
NEW MINISTRIES FOR NEW MISSION SITUATIONS
Part of the dynamics of evangelizing in the new missionary situations is the spontaneous emergence of new ministries as called for by the current pastoral conditions. Parishes that are on “maintenance mode” will tend to limit ministries only as traditionally defined by clerics for the laity. In a way, it is already a big deal that in the post conciliar setting, we have become more comfortable with the use of the term “ministry” also to refer to the forms of service rendered by the laity in the church. You know, we used to be more restrictive about ministry. We generally tended to practically equate ministry with the “ordained ministry”: Episcopate Presbyterate and Diaconate.
At best, we used to tolerate only the term “apostolate” to refer to the work of lay volunteers within the church. Well, it is not uncommon in parishes who have Parish organizational structures where the ministries are clustered into commissions pertaining to the Priestly, Prophetic and Pastoral Ministries commonly identified as Liturgical, Formation and Social Action Ministries. These ministries are often like boxes waiting to be filled with the names of lay volunteers. In some instances, lay people find themselves being assigned in ministries they have no charism for, or ministries that have become unnecessary, irrelevant, or even totally inconsequential. I have often addressed our lay volunteers in various ministries and explain to them that genuine ministries in the Church originate from charisms, bestowed generously by the Holy Spirit to the Christian community, to its baptized members.
While we recognize the traditional ministries that have been institutionalized in the church, you know, I think it is important to allow the Holy Spirit to constantly breathe new life into the Church through new charisms that can take flesh into the new ministries, as needed by the Christian community. Meaning, that when some ministries are needed and they do not yet exist in the community, we should be able to create them, or to discern how to respond proactively to the said needs by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us in establishing new ministries for the common good. Well, this is made possible only by the community sensitivity to the longings and aspirations of the community and attentiveness to the promptings of the Spirit.
The war against illegal drugs in Caloocan, for example, has led to the establishment of new ministries we call Salubong (Community-Based Drug Rehabilitation Program), The Kaagapay (non-professional counselling, support groups for widows and orphans of victims of extrajudicial killings). The pandemic has also been the occasion that saw the establishment of our Social Communications Ministry, as well as the Health Care Ministries especially, but not exclusively, to COVID patients. In our Social Action Commission, we also saw the creation of Ministries to Street Children, (children in conflict with the law), and Ministry for Undocumented Filipinos. One new specific aspect of social action that is already thriving in many dioceses is the Ecology Ministry, inspired by Laudato Si'. The volunteers in this ministry are good at finding allies in the church’s ecological advocacy work, such as in promoting ecologically sound waste management programs, for protecting watersheds, reforesting, reducing carbon footprints, promoting renewable energy.
LAY PARTICIPATION IN THE CHURCHES MISSION AS AGENTS OF RENEWAL IN SOCIETY
We can draw our inspiration for this from the exhortation of the Matthean Jesus in The Sermon on the Mount. “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:13-14). You know, we have often heard Pope Francis reminding us that the Church does not exist for herself, but rather for the world. So, does our presence in society as a community of disciples make a difference at all? Does it serve as a ferment of change the way a little yeast can make a whole mass of dough rise
There is no way we can fulfill this mission if our faithful are programmed to equate the salvation that we proclaim as good news only with a spiritual heaven for disembodied souls after death, or the promise of an afterlife. The most obvious effect of this kind of eschatology, you know, which has no basis, by the way, on the Judeo-Christian scriptures, is precisely the tendency to dichotomize between the spiritual and the secular, between the religious and our societal concerns, between faith and our actions for justice. I have often pointed out that in a postcolonial setting, our understanding of mission has radically shifted from proselytism to renewed integral evangelization, borrowing from PCP II.
We no longer equate mission with just the work of missionary congregations. Mission is integral to being Church. We cannot even claim to be Church without being missionary in our orientation.
No longer is mission to be regarded as a monopoly of the ordained and the consecrated persons. It is the business of the whole Church, especially of the laity who comprise the majority in the Church.
We have often mouth terms like “lay empowerment”, but we have consciously avoided confronting one of the root causes of lay disempowerment: which is clericalism. We have also mouth slogans like “Participatory Church”, knowing how minimally our lay people have participated in the mission of the Church in society. We have likewise tended to limit mission to the “inward”, the “ad intra” direction. We get volunteers “to serve the Church”.
Pope Francis is constantly reminded us, never forget the “ad extra” dimension of mission, meaning the “outward dimension” for the laity to serve society, as conscious participants in the mission of a servant Church, working for the transformation of the world, inspired by the gospel, and the social teachings of the Church. Not all our laity have to be involved in “Church ministries”, you know. How are we encouraging them to make a difference where they are in the world? Like in the realm of politics, science, technology, business and economics, social communications, culture and arts, ecology, etc, etc. I call this “a new appreciation of mission” that can open up many new mission situations. The key is precisely how to take the formation of the laity in such a way that they are inspired to live out their Christian vocation and mission through their own secular professions.
An important aspect of the new missionary situation is the establishment of new renewal movements among the lay people around shared professions, lived out as their vocation, making a difference together in society. Surely, there should be a difference in which a Catholic lawyer will practice his or her legal profession in the light of the Gospels and the social teachings of the Church. Well, the same thing goes for doctors, nurses and other health care workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health workers, accountants, businessmen and entrepreneurs, educators, scientists, architects, engineers, laborers, and farmers, etc.
Included among these also is the call to evangelize politics, and to promote new forms of meaningful political engagement following the social teachings of the Church. One of the best expressions of this is the current engagement of the Catholic Church in the Philippines in the formation of circles of collective discernment that lead to consensus building that will guide Catholics to vote according to a properly informed conscience. And I know that there are people who find this a bit threatening.
THE DIGITAL WORLD AS A NEW MISSION SITUATION
The pandemic came as a threat to our survival as human beings. We realized through this experience how vulnerable we are. We don't even need nuclear weapons or a wayward asteroid to destroy the Earth. One little viral mutation can wipe out millions of people in just a couple of years. Deprived of mass religious gatherings, we continue to celebrate our liturgies on people's behalf, while dispensing them of physical attendance during the lockdowns. Soon we discovered the possibility of making these celebrations available in the homes of the churchgoers by introducing online live streamstreamed Masses.
The online Masses now reach not just the regular churchgoers but the unchurched Catholics as well. I have heard of many unchurched Catholics who found themselves suddenly following even the Daily Masses online, when before they would not even attend Sunday Masses. The pandemic has also taught us how to use digital technology properly for our survival.
This technology is now both a curse and a blessing to all of us. It is a curse when we, when it is used for scamming, pornography, gambling, disinformation, sowing hatred and lies, instigating global conflicts, and controlling people’s minds.
But (the digital world) can also be used as a blessing, as it has facilitated our virtual gatherings like this, the online live streaming of our liturgical gatherings, our social media platforms for a new evangelization.
This is now an immense mission situation opened to the Church by a health crisis situation, of all things.
It is really up to us now how to use technology. It is mind boggling to think of the millions of people around the world who have discovered the faith, or return to their fate because of the pandemic. Many have been led back to the Mass, to the daily prayers, to the Bible reading, to reordering their life's priorities, going back to nature, valuing their families again, rediscovering the importance of faith and spirituality for their mental health and survival, and of course, the need for a spiritually nurturing community to belong to. It is now up to parish communities to make sure that these people will find in their company the spiritual oasis that they are looking for.
By way of conclusion, perhaps we should ask:
How do new mission situations emerge?
Who brings them about?
How do we know that we are responding to them as we should?
The answer to all three questions is just one: “The Sender”, The Lord.
Missionaries do not send themselves. So, it is not unusual, as in the case of the Prophet Amos in the Old Testament, for the one who claims to have been sent to be challenged with a question, “Who sent you?” You know, Amos, who was from Tekoa in the Southern Kingdom of Judea, or Judah, tells the priest Amaziah of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. “I was living a quiet life as a sheep breeder and addresser of Sycamore trees, but the Lord sent me to you” (cf. Amos 7:14-15). In some instances, it may take some time before the missionary realises that he or she has actually been sent.
This is what many of our Catholic OFWs are saying to themselves after getting uprooted from their homes as economic refugees in search of jobs abroad and finding themselves as strangers in foreign countries. By holding on to their faith like a survival kit, by allowing their faith to see in their foreign posts their own brothers and sisters, their own mothers and fathers, their own children and friends, they give a powerful witness to the One who sent them.
This is no different from the experience of the Jews in diaspora. scattered as migrants and refugees in foreign lands. The prophet Isaiah articulates for them their realization about the purpose of their exile. “I will make of you a light to the Gentiles that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth” (Cf. Is. 49:6). It was no different either from the experience of the earliest Christian missions. The same Jews in the diaspora communities abroad did not even know how to deal with Gentile converts to Judaism, who flocked around their synagogues in order to listen to the wisdom of their Sacred Scriptures. Since the diaspora Jews treated their faith also as their ethnic identity, they had not yet opened their minds to the mission of serving as “light to the Gentiles”.
As far as they were concerned, these Gentiles were pagans, uncircumcised, violators of the Shabbat, and eaters of unclean food. So, they remained marginalized from the rest of them. Well, it was St. Paul who had the temerity to reach out to these “Jewish converts” or converts from the Gentile world who remained in the peripheries of the synagogue communities, and were never accepted by the circumcise Jews. Even if these people had fallen in love already with the Torah and had professed faith with Yahweh their God. He removed the barriers that distance the Jews from the Greeks, the slaves from the free, the men from the women. In doing this, Paul was just being true to what Isaiah had prophesied much earlier about God wishing to make of them a “light to the Gentiles”, that they too might benefit from the fulness of life He desired for His covenant people.
Paul, you know, was familiar with the Scriptures. He knew what God had promised to Abraham, “I will bless you so that through you, all the nations on Earth shall be blessed” (Cf. Gen 22:17-18). Meaning they were being blessed in order to be a blessing. They have been gifted in order to give to the world. The covenant was not theirs to monopolize, but to share to the world. So, Paul, dared to welcome them, who had long been “disenfranchised” into the earliest Christian communities, and shared the gifts of baptism even to the so called “uncircumcised”.
It was not true that the Council of Jerusalem had resolved the conflicts that thereby ensued between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Most of the apostles themselves remained adamant about the new things that Paul was bringing into the young Church: the assembly of the “followers of the Way”. They tolerated Paul’s mission as an “apostle to the Gentiles”, but they remained aloof about it themselves.
So, what eventually brought about the new mission situations for the Jewish Christians? It was the fall of Jerusalem in 70 of the common era (C.E.), following the Roman special military operation in Judea, against the Zealot revolt which led to the full occupation of the homeland by the Gentiles. This is what brought it about. Suddenly they found themselves as refugees all over again. The Jewish Christians included among them. And where else in the diaspora would the Christians find refuge except among the newly established and predominantly Gentile Christian communities that welcomed them? Even if they had earlier been ostracized by them.
If there is one thing we must never forget, it is the fact that mission is about being sent.
It can never be carried out meaningfully unless it is clear to the ones being sent Who is sending them and what they're being sent for. It is the Lord of the harvest who sends more laborers, to gather the grains, we may not even have sown ourselves. Discerning new mission situations. Is an endless task for a Church that is constantly in mission.
This is Bishop Pablo Virgilio, David Bishop, Diocese of Kalookan, and thank you for your attention.
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo