That there was a sag in missionary zeal after Vatican II is indisputable. To some extent this was due to the challenge posed by Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions)—how do we evangelise cultures where the cross is in some sense already planted?
Once the great Catholic theologian of the last century, Karl Rahner, posited the idea of the “anonymous Christian” —the believer living a good and holy life according to the teachings of his religion and already in some sense under the influence of saving grace—the missionary impetus floundered.
Since then there have been other developments: a rabid secularism that pushes God and religion on the peripheries; the rise of nationalism and the jealous guarding of boundaries; increased violence in the Middle East and the rise of terrorism; plastic gender theories; millions of migrants crossing borders, thousands dying along the way; and climate change with its attendant disasters.
In this context Pope Francis felt it necessary to summon the Church to fulfil its mandate—to proclaim the gospel, the way of Jesus, to the ends of the earth.
“The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature,” we are told in Ad Gentes (To the Nations).
The Pope wants us to hear that call again and wants every baptised person to take up his or her part in spreading the gospel of Christ. We, like him, must be convinced Christianity has something to offer a world torn apart by violence and poverty despite rapid technological advancement.
This naturally means revisiting the Sacrament of Baptism for he entitles his message for this Extraordinary Month of Mission, October 2019, Baptised and Sent.
With his eyes on Africa, the Pope insists we must continue the work of missionaries “who summon to conversion, baptise and offer Christian salvation, with respect for the freedom of each person and in dialogue with the cultures and religions of the peoples to whom they are sent.”
As for the baptised, the Pope reminds us that mission must touch us personally like people who are in love. Baptism means having an attraction: people must find Christians attractive.
This demands an overhauling of our infant baptism programmes. People must not feel they are coming first of all to remove original sin from their babies. There is something much greater: God is inviting us to experience the life of the Trinity, the joy of hearing “This is my son, my daughter, the beloved; my favour rests on him, on her”.
It means encountering a God who throws our sins behind His back and is welcoming us and our babies into a community animated by this truth.
Infant baptism must be an opportunity for parents and godparents to re-turn: a turning away from the dark and turning towards the light, in all dimensions of their lives.
It also means caring for planet earth, which is the focus of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region beginning today in Rome and planting trees once again.
As Christians, let us stand convinced that Christ through us has something to offer the world, something far richer than the vain boasts of modern secularism.