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Mission and Human Rights

Mission and Human Rights

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Mission and Human Rights
Sr. Barbara Linen, SHCJ
 
Reform-minded people need to change their conversation about church reform. Otherwise they end up either talking to themselves or simply repeating what everyone else has been saying for the past ten years. Changing the conversation means looking at church life in new ways and developing new strategies and patterns for church life today and tomorrow. Jack Dick, Easter 2017
 
Pope Francis has warned that "creativity and positive engagement in discussion" are the only way the world can face the "serious problems and challenges afflicting our time".
 
My own reflections on 'changing the conversation' have gone in the direction of considering the story of missionin the church and how the changing paradigms of mission have effects on the rights of people in the church in whatever context. 

As someone has said we think from where we are. I am still in Nigeria (until early May) working in a renewal program. Here, my purpose is to offer theological foundations for spiritual direction as part of a program to renew priests, religious and lay people. I also teach novices, and do bits and pieces of ministry to support the mission of the community here. 

The notion of the whole church as missionary has become commonplace (from Vatican II's teaching that "The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature... AG 2), so much so that it is surprising that more has not been made of this call to mission coming out of Vatican 2. Pope Francis has advocated often for a missionary church, a willingness of members to go to the margins (present everywhere) in imitation of Jesus and in response to Vatican II. I suggest mission as a generative theme for our conversation.

A recent summary of reflections on the mission of the church included the following:
Regarding the missio of the Church, we are aware since the Council's decree, Ad Gentes, of the recovery of the Trinitarian origins of mission. What needs to be recognized and acknowledged is that, basic to this recovery, is the way in which the pluralism of religions and cultures has challenged the Church's understanding of its relationship to the world and its peoples, as well as its own theory and praxis of evangelization.
 
The church's mission is the missio Dei, God's mission, first and foremost. There is church because there is mission, the church participates in God's mission in the world, but it is not the whole of God's work in the world.
 
It is not without difficulty that the Church's teaching on mission continues to develop. The insight that mission is about participating in and cooperating with what the triune God is already doing among all peoples has enormous implications for evangelization.

The call to be missionary in a new way was taken seriously by missionaries themselves especially in the 60's and 70's, ironically when the whole missionary enterprise was being questioned. 'Missionary, Go Home' was a cry heard at that time. Many missionaries felt guilt over the way the church had gone to foreign lands to impose a faith deeply embedded in European culture. A classic book from that era was Vincent Donovan's, Christianity Rediscovered. Donovan tells the story of his decision to go and preach the gospel to the Masai people of Northern Kenya (instead of maintaining the parish operating in the mode of an American parish). In order to preach the gospel in their context he lived as they do as a nomad, learning their language and culture. He said nothing about gospel for at least 6 months and then as he re-discovered his faith through relearning it in order to share it, he spent 17 years in mission among the Masai. Such was the success of the book which he wrote describing his experience that many readers saw in it a way back into their own Christianity. The book went through at least 8 reprintings.

The challenge of re-learning mission was not only Catholic, but involved many Protestant groups as well and led to some major ecumenical collaborations. This ferment inspired soul-searching and deep research on the history of mission in the church as well as actions which attempted to right some of the wrongs done to indigenous cultures in the past. An important factor in this history was the right of the 'young churches' to self-determination. (David Bosch's magisterial work on mission, Transforming Mission gives an extensive history and analysis of mission in the churches; Donal Dorr has contributed much to the developments in mission, especially in his Option for the Poor, now in its fourth edition, Option for the Poor and for the Earth; see also Steve Bevans, "Vatican II: Theology and Practice for Today's Missionary Church," Theological Studies 74:2 (2013) 261-83.
 
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So, how're we doing? I raise this question in the context of ARCC's questions about the rights of Catholics in the church.  What might a more explicit application of the notion of God's mission and ours contribute to an understanding of the rights that might accrue to members of the church thru that mission?

Missionaries learned from history, questioned their theologies, tried new things and developed new ways of thinking; they collaborated more. They have clarified the kind of ecclesiology needed for mission, recognizing a critical role for history, and with Francis have recognized a vital role for discernment for figuring out how to move forward for the benefit of all in the church. 

On the importance of history and continuing to evolve - including ourselves

As I reflect on the rights of Catholics in developing countries, and what mission can contribute to our 'post-truth' church situation, Faggioli's analysis of the importance of critical history for doing theology today comes to mind. (In Commonweal 

See also Francis' address to the Catholic Action group, especially as reported by Robert Mickens in this week's (April 28) letter from Rome:
"We must always be changing because time changes. The only thing that does not change is what's essential. What doesn't change is the announcement of Jesus Christ, his missionary attitude, prayer, the need to pray, the need to be formed, and the need to sacrifice. That does not change. You have to find the way, how to do it, but it does not change," said Pope Francis.
 
One of the essential points Pope Francis tried to convey to the CA assembly is that the faith of Catholic Christianity has always been "concrete" and not something that is esoteric, pie-in-the-sky or disjointed from the real lives and real experiences of real people. He said it is an "incarnated faith".
 
There is much more in this remarkable talk, especially the pope's declaration that Catholic Christian faith and action means nothing unless it changes its expression by following how the Holy Spirit prompts believers to respond to the changing times. 
Rights needed for a renewed and reformed global church:
  • Education, including education in the faith (Cardinal Onaiyekan of Abuja spoke in Rome in March of this year highlighting the vast increase of the numbers of Catholics in Africa. He qualified his statement, admitting he was not sure how deep the faith was, that education was needed .... Some years ago (Orobator, SJ made a similar point in an article entitled "'After all, Africa is largely a Nonliterate Continent': The Reception of Vatican II in Africa." The title refers to a quote from the late Patrick Kalilombe, Bishop of Lilongwe in Malawi.
  • Better-trained priests and religious -- for the missionary church it is important to understand what is really important about the meaning of the church. Francis too has called for better-trained priests and religious who can help lay people also learn. 
  • Continued work on the social justice agenda of the church -- efforts are being made in many places but often need support and encouragement.
Jack's very challenging down to earth questions push me to ask: can we 

Think of rights and responsibilities in a broader way that includes rights beyond US 
 
Make more ecumenical outreach 
 
Attend to the rights of refugees who come from different countries for differing reasons. Are we Catholics learning more about them and about their plight?

SUPPORT somehow the young being called to the Synod on Youth (2018). The Right is organized and monetized for the big push to send their delegations. How do we reach the more general young population?

Jack Mahoney SJ. ends his book on human rights (The Challenge of Human Rights, 2007) with a chapter on the "Globalizing of Human Rights'. Referring to the 'shrinking of the world' calling forth adjustments in the areas of climate, trade, opportunities, he suggests a need for "cosmopolitanism"... 
 

                          An ARCC Board Member, Sr. Barbara 
    is Adjunct Professor of Moral Theology, Caldwell University, NJ
 
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