By Msgr. James McDonough
In every season of the year we do well to center our attention in the mission given by Christ to his disciples: “Go! And make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to carry out everything I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19)
It is this directive which has shaped the purpose of the Church. Since the time of Christ, the world has changed, society has changed, modes of life have changed, new structures and cultures have developed, new philosophies have evolved – but the challenge remains the same, “Go – make disciples, baptize and teach.”
The mission has expanded far beyond the countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin to five continents, 197 countries and 6 billion people.
Five years ago the archdiocesan Office of the Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith, under the direction of Msgr. Charles V. Devlin, began an initiative to help people understand the magnitude of the task by focusing on the Church on each of the five continents. A series of brochures titled “Getting to know the Mission of the Church in Africa,” “America,” “Asia,” “Europe” and “Oceania” were developed by the office.
Drawing on the findings of the synods of bishops on each of the continents, the brochures presented a summary of the issues, challenges and hopes of the Church on each continent, together with its strengths and weaknesses. They highlighted the concept that has shaped a modern sense of mission – the new evangelization initiated by Pope John Paul II.
During this current year the focus is on the Church in Oceania, the countries and the islands of the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea among others.
The peoples in this area of the world did not receive the Good News of Jesus Christ until the latter half of the second millennium. Immigrants from Europe brought with them the faith and were accompanied by missionaries. The Christian faith remains strong in hope, undiminished in its dynamism and promise. The Church in Oceania is challenged to interpret the Good News in a way that brings hope to the many indigenous people of the islands who suffer misery, poverty and injustice, and those who are marginalized or addicted.
Their care is, as elsewhere, at the very heart of the mission of the Church. The process of inculturation reveals a unique opportunity in Oceania where the cultural values of the indigenous peoples present a great challenge needing transformation. The call to a new evangelization is an urgent cry for Oceania. The mission of the Church in Oceania is a mission to 14 countries and 31 million people, of whom 26.7 percent are Catholic in 46 mission territories. Remember them especially in your prayers and your generosity this year.
The wisdom of our recent popes in expanding the concept of mission to include traditional and new forms of evangelization has presented a challenge to each and every member of the Church.
Pope Paul VI broadened the definition of evangelization, and therefore defined mission, as “bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity … and confirmed that the task of evangelizing constitutes the essential mission of the Church.”
Pope John Paul II reminded us that all are involved. “No believer in Christ … can avoid the supreme duty to proclaim Christ to all peoples,” and announced his conviction to commit all the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the “Missio ad gentes.”
He clearly expanded the work of the mission effort to include not only the peoples of the world but the structures and those who manage them as added focal points in mission initiatives.
Pope Benedict XVI brought the challenge home, especially to the Church in America when he reminded us during his 2008 visit to America as he asked us to recognize the dangers of our age: “Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads for society as a whole? … We see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundation of society … and a forgetfulness of Christ and God.”
How clear the need! How clear the challenge! How clear the call to all segments of the Church – the inspanidual, the family, the parish – the whole people of God unified for the mission of Christ!
It is a call to action founded on a call to holiness and discipleship. Come, follow me. Learn of me. Welcome me into your world.
Please pray and sacrifice for the missionaries who have devoted their lives to work with our brothers and sisters not only in Oceania, but in over 1,100 dioceses throughout the world in Asia, Africa and remote regions of Latin America. Request the series of free brochures focusing on the mission Church in the five continents or learn more about missions at www.phillymissions.org or by calling 215-587-3944.
Remember, through prayer and acts of sacrifice, by your words and actions, you become a missionary for the Lord.
(Thanks to Msgr. Charles V. Devlin, archdiocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in 2003-2006, who contributed to the development of this article).
Msgr. James McDonough is the director of the Office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.