Q: Archbishop J, Why an AEC Missionary Congress?
Pope Francis has called for an extraordinary mission month in October 2019. The bishops of the Antilles, in response to this request are hosting a missionary congress in Trinidad and Tobago September 19–22. Our desire is to call the whole Church to mission.
In our workbook for the congress, the bishops give the rationale for the extraordinary mission month:
A hundred years ago, in 1919, Pope Benedict XV published the first encyclical on the missionary nature of the Church: Maximum Illud. Pope Francis considers this centenary anniversary as a providential occasion to call on the Church to renew itself and become ever more prepared to work, pray and give financial support for our common mission to bring the Gospel of Christ to all peoples (1, Baptised and Sent, AEC).
The overall theme of the extraordinary mission month is Baptised and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World. The Holy Father is reminding all Catholics that by virtue of their baptism, they have been called to full active participation in the Church. Baptism marks our entry into the Church and our call to become ministers.
The workbook (p 5) quotes Pope Francis:
“Looking at the People of God is remembering that we all enter the Church as laypeople. The first sacrament, which seals our identity forever, and of which we should always be proud, is baptism. Through baptism and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the faithful are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood. Our first and fundamental consecration is rooted in our baptism. No one has been baptised a priest or a bishop. They baptised us as laypeople and it is the indelible sign that no one can ever erase. (Letter to Cardinal Ouellet, March 19, 2016)”
By recovering the theology of baptism, the Holy Father is rekindling that grace that we all received when we became part of God’s household; when we were anointed with Holy Chrism to become prophets, priests and kings/queens in God’s household. In baptism we become a new person in Jesus Christ and are sent on mission. Our call to mission is rooted in baptism, hence the theme, Baptised and Sent.
Over several generations, we have lost the missionary dimension of the Church. We have become complacent and so transformed Catholicism into a culture— “We born, live and will die a Catholic”.
We may not go to church, our lives may not witness the values of Catholicism, we may not even have a vital relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but nonetheless we see ourselves as Catholic. This is not Catholicism, not “a living faith”.
Saint Paul VI, in his now classic and prophetic text Evangelli Nuntiandi (EN) 1975, says:
“Evangelising is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelise, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection” (EN, 14).
To be Catholic is to be on mission for God. If evangelising is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, then we all must participate in this grace.
Evangelisation is not an optional extra for the Christian. We are being called back to our baptismal roots. From these roots of faith, we are being sent into the world. Pope Paul VI describes this mission as:
“…bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: “Now I am making the whole of creation new.” But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by baptism and by lives lived according to the Gospel” (EN, 18).
This is an interior process of conversion, requiring us to yield our will to the will of God. It is a renewal that transforms society. He continues: “[The] Church evangelises when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs” (EN, 18).
Quoting the pastoral letter, New Ways of Being Church in a Digital Milieu, the workbook says:
“Good News to the poor is the mission and goal of all pastoral communications (see Luke 4:18). Through signs, gestures, words, books, moving images, audio, and social communications, the Church has sought to proclaim her message so that all people will hear it in their own native language (see Acts 2:11). To be faithful to this mission of evangelizing communications to the people of the Caribbean today, we will need a new missionary spirit, one that is built upon participation, dialogue, and collaboration and one that speaks to the heart, soul, and religious imagination of our Antillean people. We need a new way of being Church!” (1)
The New Evangelisation that St John Paul II launched is new in its ardour, methods and expression. We need to proclaim the age-old message in a way that is new, that touches the soul and fires the imagination of our Antillean people. This is vital. This is the purpose of the congress.
KEY MESSAGE: Your bishops are calling the whole Church to mission, to actively spread the Good News of Jesus Christ wherever you are.
ACTION STEP: Preparation for the congress will be launched in all of our parishes on Pentecost Sunday, June 9. We will make the AEC booklet, Baptised and Sent available as an e-copy and in print for parish groups to reflect on. The fruit of the reflection needs to be shared with us to feed the congress. A questionnaire accompanies the booklet to facilitate the group reflection. All material will be housed on the diocesan website. Your group reflections can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
We ask you songwriters to bring your creativity to mission. We are looking for new songs. On the final day of the congress all are welcome to attend the closing Mass.
SCRIPTURE: Luke 24:49; John 20:21