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Reading the “signs of the times” for any theological reflection and missiological Orientation was made popular by Pope John XXIII. Are we reading the signs of the times in our provinces/ regions/missions together with the people?

Signs of the times…..economic slowdown in most countries, political populism and narrow nationalism, international migration of people searching for a better livelihood, and xenophobic violence are some important aspects to be noted in various countries.

Secularism is on the increase, religion is pushed back to the private realm; material values and personal choices are placed above religious values, and religious fundamentalism is increasing. Persecution seems to be inevitable in some countries.

But along with these negative trends, there are positive aspects too: people are generous, faith-based communities do not show fear, the freedom of individuals is cherished, and there is a steady growth of opportunities from the technological and digital world. But one has to see what happens to the people at the margins, vulnerable people, children and women. Are we reading the signs of the times in our provinces/ regions/missions together with the people?

Maximum Illud and its relevance

The Apostolic Letter of Pope Benedict XV, Maximum Illud, marks its 100th anniversary this year – a milestone in the Church. This Apostolic Letter gave a great impetus to the Church’s missionary activity in the period following the First World War. Although the letter was written a hundred years ago, its message is still relevant for the Church today and indeed will be for some time to come. Maximum Illud can serve as an impulse for a more renewed missionary engagement and commitment. Its main points on the cooperation of local churches, formation of the clergy, openness to the involvement of Religious Congregations in spreading the gospel, bringing in other nationalities for this noble and divine task, and the inclusion of women, are still relevant.

Some aspects on mission were not dealt with clearly at that time, but reading the signs of the time, the later documents on mission came forth more strongly on inter-faith dialogue, laity participation in evangelization, missionary discipleship and so forth. To celebrate this centenary, Pope Francis announced an Extraordinary Missionary Month of October 2019, with the theme “Baptized and sent: the Church of Christ on mission in the world.” Reading the signs of the time in our PRMs, what is our missionary thrust today? And how do we carry it out in practice? The recent General Chapters have shown the direction.

Discovering the Word

The 18th General Chapter (GC) says in its Conclusion, “Discovering the Word is an exercise that animates our life…our response to this (Christ’s) love can become a reality when we discern ourselves going deeper into the Word” (53). Here one has to unearth the dynamics of discovery.

During the exercise of discovery, identifying the dryness, boredom and distaste towards the Word of God, we have an opportunity to find ways for growth. Similarly, distractions, resistance and non-receptivity in prayer are also occasions to look for grace and newness. Discovering the impediments is also a way to discover the Word which is life, grace and vitality. St. Augustine said, “The art of God is to attract.” Have I responded to this attraction? Let us discover the Word daily in our lives; the path of discovery or the act of discovery is a witness of our faith to the people.

Society’s legacy and new paths

Our Society’s inherent orientation is mission, thus mission is our life, our blood, and our food. It is for the whole of our life. Our Founder St. Arnold Janssen founded our Congregation as a missionary congregation, thus what is our legacy? Going out to the whole world and preaching the good news and sharing God’s love to all people, especially “where the gospel has not been preached at all or only insufficiently…” (C 102).

We are called to reach out to the unknown people, interior places, far off countryside with the zeal of actualizing the Reign of God; to involve ourselves in the transformative process ofthe local place with innovative programs and more particularly establishing justice, peace and fellowship within the local community. We acknowledge all the missionaries who have given their entire lives for this mission.

With the present globalized civil society, complex political approaches, new understandings of culture, and more so with the renewed understanding of mission theology, what are the new paths that we could tread to continue our missionary activities? Certainly one common approach cannot serve for all; depending on the local contexts, each PRM has to search, design and execute new ways of doing mission. Therein lies creativity and challenge. We would like to mention just two aspects.

Inter-congregational model of mission: We are aware of networking among various people for the success of mission. Inter-congregational projects by men and women religious congregations in South Sudan for the welfare of the people and in Sicily (Italy) by some religious Sisters’ congregations for the migrants are good examples of new paths. The focus of the project in Sicily was to be nella strada, or "in the street to
work in the peripheries, to form relationships with locals, both religious and non-religious, mainly by listening to the migrants’ stories.

Lay partnership in mission: One of the concrete ways of doing mission today is together with lay partners. Today, the SVD lay partners are growing steadily; more people are being inspired by the charism of our Society. Our responsibility today is to be open to these lay people and much more to organize these lay partners and instill in them the spirit of mission. We need to pray together with them and discern; when we plan together, discuss and execute various missionary activities together with them, there will be success. Now it is time to inspire, organize and work with lay partners.

Reaching out…

Pope Francis’ articulation that “the Church which goes forth” (Evangelii Gaudium, title of nos. 20-24) has given more attention today to her missionary nature. Not because this is new, but because it is apt in today’s world situation. He wants a Church that “goes forth”, to be “at the margins”, “smell of the sheep”, “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty”, etc. Thus, missionary orientation today is mainly to reach out…

…to the vulnerable

The emphasis on missionary service to the poor is not an option since this is where we find the presence of the Word in the world. This mission is nonnegotiable” (18th GC, 42). We have placed our emphasis on poor and vulnerable people for some years, but what is our success today? What are the other methods and approaches that we need to adopt today to be more effective? These are crucial questions that would help us in the future. Charity is good, but a charity approach alone will not yield transformation. Charity and a liberative approach; feeding and empowerment programs; helping and self-sustainable projects would be of great help. More so, poor people have to be participants in these programs and not only recipients; and the other aspects of healing, reconciliation and recognizing God’s love through prayer would be necessary.

...to the fragile common home

All politicians love to talk about climate change, pollution, preserving nature, and various topics on ecology. But how many are really convinced of this, and how many practice to preserve nature and address the issues of ecology in their daily lives is a big question.  As missionaries, we cannot just talk and discuss, we have to find ways to implement some programs in our PRMs. We have committed “to pray and care for the environment and to formulate a plan of action addressing integrity of creation issues in our communities, institutions and parishes; to implement proper waste management in our communities and provinces” (18th GC, 45). “A strategy for real change calls for rethinking processes in their entirety, for it is not enough to include a few superficial ecological considerations while failing to question the logic which underlies present day culture” (Laudato Si’ 197). Thus, “talking time” is over, let us begin to practice. Concrete action plans on integrity of creation in our houses and institutions must be implemented.

…with new vigor

All of us have committed to serve the Lord, we thank him for this gift of vocation. We have achieved a lot as missionaries, but “we need to improve, transform and renew certain areas of our lives” (18th GC 15). Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit (CV) while addressing the young and the Church says, “Cast out the fears that paralyze you, so that you don’t become young mummies. Live! Give yourselves over to the best of life! Open the door of the cage, go out and fly! Please, don’t take early retirement” (143). Everyone who has new vigor, orientation and enthusiasm can make a difference in mission.

To conclude this reflection, we can say that we are missionaries and we know all these, therefore what is new? Newness comes only from each individual and community. The more we discern in the community and do collective action, the more we can be successful in our mission. To orient ourselves we need to dream and do our best. “Our best dreams are only attained through hope, patience and commitment, and not in haste” (CV 142).

We can also dream with the motto of the administration: Faithful to the Word, One with the People to find a new mission thrust. The Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud gave a direction for mission a hundred years ago, now with the many new orientations on mission, the celebration of the Extraordinary Missionary Month of October 2019 gives an opportunity to find new paths and to work with renewed vigor.

Fr. Superior General Paulus Budi Kleden and the Leadership Team

Published in the newsletter “Arnoldus Nota”- Octubre 2019