The urgency of Mission Ad Gentes is no longer the rush of missionaries to baptize all peoples so that all peoples may attain Salvation. However, baptism continues to be the ordinary way God calls all peoples to belong to God’s Kingdom in a visible manner through the Catholic Church. God who wants all peoples to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) offers to all peoples the means of salvation through the life and work of Jesus Christ and his Church. When people, for no fault of their own, are unable to know the Gospel, we are sure that God will find ways only known to God to gather all God’s children under God’s wings (LG # 16 and Lk 13: 34).
As a missionary trained in CTU in Chicago, who worked in the Arab world for 12 of my 20 years of missionary life, the biblical passage that encourages me to be an Ad Gentes missionary in places where conversions are discouraged and serve in the Land of the Free among immigrant peoples is 1 Corinthians 1: 17. “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
Rather, the urgency of being missionary Ad Gentes today relies on the constant newness of the following reasons:
- The message of Christ is as new as it was 2019 years ago in Galilee. The proposal of Christ of a particular way of entering into a personal relationship with God is as appealing as it was in Jesus’ time. Jesus own personality and way of relating to God is as human and divine as it can be. From the declining generation of the baby boomers, passing through the generation “x” to the millennials, the Catholic Church continues to adjust its aim to the way and form that each generation conceives its relationship to God, Church and World.
- In a place where rights are as important as duties, the Catholic Church in North America believes that each person that comes to this world, has the right to know the invitation of Christ to be holy as God his Father is holy (1 Pet 1:16). The universal call to holiness is an urgent need as people need heroes or outstanding people who give their lives for the good of humanity.
- While it is true that Catholic Missionaries Ad Gentes are diminishing in numbers, the growing number of migrants ensures the presence of Catholics in places where before the year 2000 it was forbidden or impossible to stablish a visible presence of Christianity.
- The paradigm shifts of mission from the IXX, XX centuries from being sending churches to becoming receiving churches is known as mission in reverse. In the XXI century, this phenomenon continues to challenge the complacent and dormant churches made of marble and gothic facades. In only a few decades ago, the South came to meet the North. The geographical shift of vocations is a vivid example of this missionary change. The Spirit in deed blows where it wills (Jn 3:8). The young churches that gathered around a tree or in humble straw-made shrines, bring back the glory to the sacred space where God continues to promise to God’s people: I will be your God and you will be my chosen people (Dt 14:2).
- The spiritual dryness experienced by western Churches in the past century is being replenished by the new faith transfusion that immigrant peoples bring to the North Atlantic Countries. It is like the sand clock is being turned upside down to allow the flow in the opposite direction. Now it’s a new time and the protagonists are others.
- Maximum Illud # 16 says that the Catholic Church is not an Alien Church: “The Catholic Church is not an intruder in any country; nor is she alien to any people.” Thus, the migration of peoples from Latin America bring to the American church color, light and rhythm in the way of worshiping the One and true God. If work and money is of great importance for many Americans, stewardship of time and talent from the immigrant workers is what makes overflow the empty collection baskets that forced dioceses to amalgamize parishes or close and sell their beautiful but empty buildings.
- All this new way of being missionaries Ad Gentes in the North American Province (NAP) is far from being perfect or ran without encountering huge challenges. But it is this “imperfection” that keeps missionaries on edge dreaming new ways of being missionaries and finding answers to old problems. The role of lay missionaries is one of those signs of the times. Human promotion is at the core of true mission promotion. The Lay Missionary Programs of the NAP offers a positive contribution to the exchange of faith through the profession of the lay missionary in developing countries. The testimony of family life given by our lay missionaries also encourages young local families to respond to God’s call to holiness in the sanctity of matrimony. Developing countries using one’s own craft encourages the local lay people to share their resources to the building of a new missionary church that emerges from the shadow of colonialism and oppression to the freedom and self-reliance and self-sufficiency of a Kingdom where Peace, Justice and Joy have a better chance.
- The NAP is not only a place to do fundraising for the mission Ad Gentes, it is a place where friend-raising is as important. The Gospel calls to make all people Jesus’ friends (Mt 28:19). The Gospel encourages our Comboni Mission Centers to become once again, places where the Gospel calls people to get involved in God’s plan with their time and resources. The missionary by means of sharing his or her Ad Gentes mission experience, enriches the local church by telling them the stories of success and failure where they shared their lives or where the church struggles to thrive in the mists of persecution, war and famine. The interconnectedness that we are called to live out of one faith, one hope, one Christ is still a driving force that fuels my missionary enthusiasm that sparks any other dark though of abandoning the mission to pitch my tent in the sunny lands of Southern California.
Fr. José Alberto Pimentel, mccj
Holy Cross Catholic Church, Los Angeles, California