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The Mission Ad Gentes project Davao

 

The new frontiers of the Marist mission

Cmi

20/12/2006: Philippines

Davao is a city of the Philippines which is located in the south of the island of Mindanao, one of the most important islands which form the Philippine archipelago. When the superiors chose Davao as the centre for these courses, they had already anticipated the cultural, physical and social impact on the majority of the participants. Living in Davao and on the island of Mindanao is already living on the frontier, thus, even though the place where we live might be an oasis, a pure and raw reality is discovered outside the city, where many people live. Also, on the island of Mindanao is where the majority of Philippine brothers carry out their mission. I could now speak to you abundantly about Marist communities who give a prophetic witness here, in risking even their life, to “make Jesus Christ known and loved” in the areas under Moslem influence. This is an aspect of the frontiers of the mission that is discovered here: being a witness of Jesus Christ, living on the frontier as a missionary can cost you your life.
The experience at Davao during these months has been provocative, challenging and destabilising, nothing to do with the initial dreams that some of us had at the beginning. I must thank Brother Luis Sobrado, VG, for having charged our batteries from the very first instant and for having passed on to us this interior passion and fire that the words of Brother Seán summarised in his convocation. “Something is moving in the Congregation… for the good,” he said to me. “This Mission Ad Gentes is not the fruit of chance, this is not a bad dream; nor is it an overfeeding of ecclesial or Chapter documents. Here, it is the Spirit who is urging us, guiding us along unsuspected pathways.”
Throughout these months, the different workshops have succeeded one another as have the experiences that the orientation team had programmed. But, happily, not everything was pro-grammed and planned. For example, community life. The community was the first frontier or milestone that we had to go beyond. One does not meet every day an international, multicultural and multiracial community such as the one we formed here with twenty brothers and this when we say that we are an international Institute. I think that this is another aspect of the new challenges that the Brother Superior General and his Council are providing us with: the creation of international communities which go beyond the narrowness of views of the old Provinces and which are witnesses to the universal fraternity to which our vocation calls us: “In a world ever more fragmented and individualistic, we feel a strong call to live brotherhood in a prophetic way, to live up to our identity, as brothers of young people through our ready welcome, listening, dialogue and attentiveness. The fire of Pentecost urges us to take part in the missionary outreach of the whole Church.” (Message of the XX General Chapter, 35-36)

What is new asks for a new style
We are conscious that we live on a planet that is more and more globalised; and this demands on the part of religious congregations new approaches, new analyses of the mission and of the structure itself of religious life. And our congregation is conscious of that. That is why Brother Seán and the last General Chapters urge us so much to give creative and daring responses to new learned assemblies wherever they appear and which question our style of life and our own existence and invite us to discover the new frontiers of mission. Perhaps some, on hearing this expression think that I am referring to the geographical frontiers of the new countries of mission ad gentes. To those people I should tell them that such an expression is an old one, and even the preceding Pope used it on a number of occasions. But to what does it refer precisely? The Pope answers us: Today we face a religious situation which is ex-tremely varied and changing. Peoples are on the move; social and religious realities which were once clear and well defined are today increasingly complex. We need only think of certain phenomena such as urbanization, mass migration, the flood of refugees, the de-Christianization of countries with ancient Christian traditions, the increasing influence of the Gospel and its values in overwhelmingly non-Christian countries, and the proliferation of messianic cults and religious sects. (Redemptoris Missio, 32)
These new learned assemblies cannot be assumed only with evangelic audacity and zeal. All of this requires a new qualification for the future missionaries. Often it will be necessary to traverse several kinds of frontiers to accompany Christ in his mission. There where He is, there we must be. “Today the Church must face other challenges and push forward to new frontiers, both in the initial mission ad gentes and in the new evangelization of those peoples who have already heard Christ proclaimed. Today all Christians, the particular churches and the universal Church, are called to have the same courage that inspired the missionaries of the past, and the same readiness to listen to the voice of the Spirit.” (RM 30).
In our time, we find communities that appear tired, in which appear a routine, the struggle between the desire and the reality, the fear of an new historic situation, the lack of fervor [which] is all the more serious because it comes from within. It is manifested in fatigue, dis-enchantment, compromise, lack of interest and above all lack of joy and hope.” (RM 36). One feels the absence of the breath of the Spirit. Before this situation, it is advisable to question oneself, won’t the mission be the dynamism that restores life and hope to the communities? “The fire of Pentecost urges us to take part in the missionary outreach of the whole Church.” (Message of XX GC, 36). Since Pentecost, the ecclesial dynamism always has crossed all the frontiers and the banks to grow in new spaces: “Nevertheless, there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel and to establish new churches among peoples or communi-ties where they do not yet exist, for this is the first task of the Church, which has been sent forth to all peoples and to the very ends of the earth. Without the mission ad gentes, the Churchs very missionary dimension would be deprived of its essential meaning and of the very activity that exemplifies it.” (RM, 34) Only by questioning oneself on the frontiers of history and on the new learned assemblies can one respond to fundamental questions: Where must the testimony of faith be given? From where is the Spirit of Jesus calling? The last Gen-eral Chapter recommends: “that Brothers be enabled to move easily from one Province to another for the sake of projects of solidarity, evangelisation and education.” (46). That is why the globalisation of solidarity and the service of reconciliation between the peoples must be directed towards the priority “confines” for the mission of the future. The Spirit urges us to leave, to go beyond the walls, because “outside” is where we find the heart of the world, and only by leaving can one perceive its beating and its concerns. It is the spirituality of the exo-dus: leaving our securities to meet God there where he is: for that we must traverse the banks and go beyond the frontiers.
Perhaps at present these words of Paul that we have often listened to, meditated upon and proclaimed acquire a prophetic sense: “How then are they to call on him if they have not come to believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him? And how will they hear of him unless there is a preacher for them? And how will there be preachers if they are not sent? As scripture says: How beautiful are the feet of the messenger of good news.” (Rom 10,14s).


Brothers “Ad Gentes”
It is now a year since the letter of invitation to the Mission Ad Gentes addressed to each brother by the Superior General was published. At that moment – I must admit – I did not realise the impact of this audacious initiative. And now I see myself involved and being part of this remarkable project.
A few months ago, a missionary brother confessed to me what follows: “In the life of a mis-sionary there is not a lot of “romanticism”; sometimes, rather, enough “drama”; there is not a lot of poetry but in effect a lot of daily hard prose. Eyes always open to observe, ears attentive for listening and a heart ready to welcome the new, that which is different, allowing oneself to evangelise on the way.
Many things have passed by since then: seminars, workshops, insertion experiences, meetings between congregations, visits of superiors… Of all that we have heard, seen and felt, I hold onto the insertion experiences. Throughout these months, we have taken part in three types of insertion. The first was weekly: work with street children, aged persons, prisoners, physically and mentally handicapped people, drug addicts. You could write a lot about each one of these activities. But what affected me the most was the experience during a week with a Marist community of the zone (Fathers, Brothers, Sisters). Our eyes were open to a lot of realities: the work with prostitutes, the formation of catechists and leaders of communities, agricultural development, university work, inter-religious dialogue with Moslems in areas of risk, the implantation of Christian communities in indigenous zones, vocations ministry among congregations, the animation ministry of communities far from parishes and without religious assistance. These experiences helped us to know new possibilities of mission and to develop collaboration between congregations.
The second insertion experience occurred in different social milieux: an experience with fishermen at Padada, with country people at Buda and in small mountain tribal schools at Don Marcelino (nothing to do with Champagnat, except for his spirit). We shared the life of the people. Living with them in their houses, with their poverty, in their culture, their aspirations, their struggles, their values, their way of encountering God…, by sharing their work, their meals, their house, their bedroom, their bathroom… ; all from their point of view and that of the Word, which today is addressed “to the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame…” (Lk 14, 21.24). We five brothers went to different small mountain schools, isolated and remote, very poor and separated from each other. With the indigenous people, we lived in the house of the teacher, in a small house of bamboo built by the community. The teacher, whose family lived elsewhere, was also indigenous and spoke the local language. This experience seemed very similar to that experienced by the first brothers who were sent into the villages two by two, and who prepared their meals and lived with their students. What we discovered helped us to understand the vision of Father Champagnat in sending the Little Brothers of Mary to the poor rural areas.


Being a missionary in Asia
Living in Asia means having to constantly traverse the frontiers of division of a breathtaking variety of languages, of races, of cultures and of religions. Besides the geographical frontiers, there exist others created by the process of globalisation: the growing breach between the rich and the poor, the violence against women and children, religious fundamentalism, political and military conflicts. Being a missionary in Asia requires an affective and effective solidarity with the people of the two sides of the frontiers, especially with those marginalised and op-pressed. In Asia, the missionary must commit himself to live a spirituality marked by presence, dialogue of life, inculturation, the transformation of mentality and of life style, reconciliation, harmony, inter-religious dialogue, and living with the inclemency of mankind. He must be a person seduced by Jesus and his Kingdom, a living parable of communion and apostolic fraternity. Difficulties will not be lacking for the missionary brothers in Asia. For example, in a few countries, the explicit entry of missionaries is forbidden; in others, not only is evangelisation forbidden but also conversion and even Christian worship; there are places in Asia where Christians continue to live clandestinely. In other places, the obstacles are of a cultural type: the passing on of the evangelical message proves to be insignificant or incomprehensible, and conversion is considered as an abandonment of one’s own people and culture.

All the dioceses come into our plans
Each time I understand this dream of our Founder better. When you read the correspondence that he maintained with the missionaries in Oceania, you realise that Father Champagnat was always attentive to the “insinuations” of Providence and that he never dismissed any continent as a domain of mission. We understand today even better what the preceding Pope wrote in Redemptoris Missio, 82 on the urban mission: More numerous are the citizens of mission countries and followers of non-Christian religions who settle in other nations for reasons of study or work, or are forced to do so because of the political or economic situations in their native lands. The presence of these brothers and sisters in traditionally Christian countries is a challenge for the ecclesial communities, and a stimulus to hospitality, dialogue, service, sharing, witness and direct proclamation. In Christian countries, communities and cultural groups are also forming which call for the mission ad gentes, and the local churches, with the help of personnel from the immigrants own countries and of returning missionaries, should respond generously to these situations.
For all of that, we must also rejoice because today our Institute feels called to respond to this special challenge of Mission Ad Gentes with audacity and courage, defying all human forecasts. As Champagnat, let us put our confidence in God who never abandons those who entrust themselves to him.

Br. Miguel Ángel Sancha

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