“The Church is missionary by its very nature in as much as it derives its origin from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit” (AG 2).
To evangelise is the grace and the vocation proper of the Church and its deepest identity. The Church exists to evangelise: “The Church is missionary by its very nature inasmuch as it derives its origin from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit” (AG 2).
Evangelisation is a global and dynamic activity, which involves the Church in the prophetic, priestly and royal mission of the Lord Jesus. It is a deeply ecclesial act that involves all the baptized, each one according to his/her particular charism and ministry.
Very often, speaking of the laity and notwithstanding Vatican Council II, we are still confined to the Church’s vision as a pyramid, in which the position of the laity is the one described by Yves Congar: on its knees before the altar, seated before the pulpit and with a hand to the wallet to support Catholic activities.
1. Unity of Vocation and Mission
Vatican II invites us to return to the origins and rediscover the Church as the People of God, with a common vocation to holiness (Eph 1:4) and a common mission, namely the spreading of the Kingdom by bringing salvation to humankind and preparing the world for Christ. This common vocation and common mission take shape in the diversity of activities, charisma and minis-tries.
The common mission requires that each Christian feels the urgency of the proclamation and, therefore, the “woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16) of St. Paul becomes an invitation and an admonition for all and in all circumstances, in season and out of season, both ad intra and ad extra, at home, among our own people and even to the farthest ends of the earth.
The Church is wholly and always ministerial and missionary. Therefore, the laity and the local Churches must go beyond a mentality of dependency and lack of responsibility, conforming to an attitude of maintaining what has al-ready being achieved. Even missionaries ad gentes must live in permanent mission, without falling into the temptation of feeling relegated to limbo when they return to their country of origin. In a Gospel perspective it is not the geographical dimension that defines a missionary, but the love for Mission, the awareness of being and of feeling called and sent anywhere and to any-body like Jesus, missionary of the Father, “to serve and not to be served” (Mt 20:28). For some years now we have heard talk about reopening the book of Mission: it is an activity and a reading that needs to be done together, in an attitude of mutual listening and enrichment in order not to fall into the rhetoric of “nice words.” This means to accept the challenge of a pastoral that is symphonic, in which we all are ready for mission that will make us do today by choice what we may have to do tomorrow by necessity. It is imperative that Christians rediscover that they can become, by the testimony of their lives, witnesses in their daily routine, in the family, at work, with their neighbours, in places of entertainment, wherever they volunteer and in eve-rything that concerns their social and cultural activities: “Go home, to your people, and tell them what the Lord has done to you and the mercy he has shown you” (Mk 5:19).
2. The Words of Comboni
For Comboni, Mission is Catholic in the full sense of the word - katà olon - namely to all: it is the going of all, everywhere to anyone. He is deeply con-vinced that the subject of mission is the entire Church in all its aspects: “The work must be Catholic, not Spanish, French, German or Italian. All Catholics must help the Poor Africans… with our plan we hope to open the way into the Catholic faith to all the tribes in the entire territory inhabited by Africans. And to accomplish this, I think, all activities must be united” (S 944).
At the same time he has deep faith in the ability of “all Catholics the world over” to take an interest in and to pledge themselves to mission and to find it within their hearts to give “support and help, taken up by the spirit of that su-perhuman charity, that embraces the vastness of the universe, and that the divine Saviour came to bring on earth” (S 843).
He believes in and invests in lay people, who in the missions “help our apostolate more than the priests help in conversions, because the African students and new Christians spend a considerable amount of time with them. They, by word and example, are truly apostles among the students, who ob-serve them and listen to them more than to the priests” (S 5831 ff). The for-mation of lay people is one of the defining aspects in the commitments of Comboni who wants to save Africa by means of Africa: “All my efforts are aimed at strengthening these two missions where we prepare good individu-als indigenous to the central tribes, so that they will become apostles of faith and civilization in their own country” (S 3293); “I was able to train competent African teachers and catechists, plus shoemakers, masons, carpenters, etc. and supply the stations of Khartoum and of Cordofan. Indigenous people so prepared are essential to the very existence of a mission” (S 3409).
It’s like hearing ahead of its time the voice of Vatican Council II: “Lay people are called to bring the life and activity of the Church in those places and cir-cumstances, where the Church cannot become the salt of the earth without them” (LG 33). “Many people cannot hear the Gospel and know Christ with-out the presence of lay people who live next to them” (Apostolicam Actuosi-tatem 13) and their presence is all the more essential where “the Church is not free or where Catholics are few and scattered” (AA 17).
3. The laity in the Chapter Acts 2003
The Chapter Acts invite us to reflect on the fact that “a good number of Catholics, pastors, consecrated persons and lay people, are becoming more aware of their prophetic and missionary vocation” (CA ’03, 12) and “the mis-sionary activity of the People of God aims to reveal the meaning of life in a globalized world, and to encourage commitment and solidarity, putting Christ back at the centre of humanity today” (CA ’03, 25). Faced with these chal-lenges there must arise attitudes showing prophecy in action. This new awareness could be the answer to the “ageing and the reduction of person-nel, … that contribute to the imbalance between commitments taken on and available personnel” (CA ’03, 21), having the prophetic courage to “invest” in the laity and together overcome “identity problems, superficial spirituality and worldliness… patterns that are now quite old” (CA ’03, 22). Lay people are certainly not the panacea to all problems, but together, in a co-responsibility not only in word but in practice, namely in “a style of cooperation that in-volves all available forces” (CA ’03, 26.5), it is possible to “review the content of proclamation, and discover new and more adequate methods in response to the decline in Christianity and the growth of indifference in society” (CA ’03, 26.4).
Reviewing the vision of Mission, identification of priorities, the re-qualification of ongoing formation, the renewal of missionary methodology (CA ’03, 30 ff) cannot be challenges to be faced solely within the Institute, running the risk of becoming a small ghetto faced with the vastness of the challenges, but rather it becomes necessary to listen, to compare, to be on a journey together with the laity and the local Churches. All this is in order to have “an accurate and regular analysis of reality,” a factual inculturation, a formation of leaders and communities that will be the protagonists of their history (CA ’03, 42 ff).
Only a truly ecclesial action, and therefore synergic, with and not only for the laity, can ensure that “the people will be fully involved and sharing in the responsibility of the entire missionary activity” (CA ’03, 100.2), through ac-tions meant “to promote more decisively the local structures that train laity and pastoral agents for an increasingly professional participation in evangeli-sation and human development” (CA ’03, 100.3), working on “the basis of shared responsibility with the local Church communities, with movements and other organizations, to bring together and make more effective all the ministries for the Kingdom” (CA ’03, 100.4).
In particular, it is extremely useful that, in the spirit of Comboni who even when away from Africa never ceased to be a missionary, the entire People of God truly “help the local Church to open out to the ad gentes missionary dimension, and enrich the home Church with the cultural, religious and theo-logical treasures and challenges received from the Christian communities that the missionaries serve” (CA ’03, 105 & 105.1). “Let us ensure that in reality Mission Promotion be a service of evangelisation” and that there be “the urgency to involve as much as possible the laity, individually and in groups,” and also “in the attention to be paid to benefactors and friends of the Institute” (CA ’03, 105.6,7,8). But, above all, both in the mission ad intra and ad extra we sponsor “projects that can be continued by the people” to ensure that their activities will continue regardless of the rotation of person-nel. This becomes possible only through a laity that has been formed and made co-responsible.
Since the challenge of the laity is of crucial importance for the Church and for Mission, may the words and the example of St. Daniel Comboni accom-pany us on this journey of pastoral conversion to which we are all called: “It will be necessary to suffer greatly for the love of Christ, to fight with poten-tates, Turks, atheists, free masons, barbarians, the elements, priests, friars, the world and hell. But he who trusts in himself trusts in the biggest jackass in the world. Our entire trust is in the One who died for the Africans, who chooses the weakest means to achieve his purpose” (S 2459).
4. FOR THE COMMUNITY MEETING
THE WORD OF GOD
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21).
Jesus told them: “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).
“Go home, to your people, and proclaim to them what the Lord has dome to you and the mercy he has shown to you” (Mk 5:19).
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
1) How much do we encourage and contribute to the awareness of the prophetic and missionary vocation of the laity?
2) Have we seriously considered that in many situations the Church cannot be present and active if not through the laity?
3) Do we consider lay people as truly co-workers and co-responsible of the same mission of Christ, or simply as auxiliaries (in the best of cases) or collectors of donation (in the worst of cases)?
4) What can we do to foster and form a Comboni laity wherever we happen to be?
Comboni Lay Missionary