Tilaran (Fides Service) – CAM 2, the 2nd American Mission Congress which will be held next week 25 to 30 November in Guatemala City, is the first major missionary event in the third millennium. It will be an opportunity to evaluate missionary activity in America and all over the world and give useful indications for the future of mission ad gentes. Fides spoke with Bishop Vittorino Girardi of Tilaran in Costa Rica, a Comboni missionary who will be one of the main speakers at CAM 2.
Bishop Giardi what does it mean to be a missionary today?
To be a missionary today means to make a radical commitment to obey the Lord’s twofold command: “Love one another as I have loved you….As the Father has sent me so I send you”. Christ commands us to love in his style of total, unconditioned self giving, even to the offering of life, and he calls us to make his mission our own. I think that these two “as I” are the basis and significance of our missionary efforts. To be a missionary today means to cry with Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I did not preach the Gospel”. Moreover the moment of history in which we live, the “kairós” as theologians would say, renders our missionary commitment more intense: this is a time of vast possibilities for missionary activity (think for example of the means of social communications at our disposal) and the great challenges posed by forums signal the urgent need for evangelisation. Unexpectedly new fields of mission have opened for example Mongolia, China, while others (Africa and South America) keep calling for more missionaries. Not to mention the challenges of interreligious dialogue, the encounter, at times painful, of different cultures, and the need to accompany young people on their journey of integral development..
What indications for the Church’s mission do you expect 2nd American Mission Congress to produce?
Expectations are high. Firstly we hope the Congress, following on from the previous ones, will continue to animate missionary pastoral able to pervade all the pastoral of the local Church, and encourage and foster numerous missionary vocations ad gentes, ad intra and ad extra, so that missionary activity is no longer, as the Pope described it in Redemptoris Missio; neglected and forgotten. In Latin America our expectations are all the more important considering that almost half the world’s Catholics live here.
We are aware that this is in open and scandalous contrast 1.5% of missionaries ad gentes offered today by our Churches. We see an authentic reawakening of missionary awareness, but, as Santo Domingo documents affirm, it is still insufficient. CAM2 will undoubtedly be an important lap on the journey in growth in ever more lively mission awareness. Our expectations are nourished by the fact that preparation for the Congress has involved the best apostolic agents in our local Churches, especially this year, 2003, declared by the Bishops of Central America “Holy Year of Mission ”.
In your opinion is it possible to have a concrete experience such as the mission congress for Africa or Asia?
I am more familiar with the Church in Africa because I was engaged in the apostolate there for four and a half years and I visited many African countries Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda…. I think that for Africa a continental Mission Congress is not only possible, it is also to be encouraged in view of developing mission awareness in those young Churches, from the outset. A Brazilian Bishop was right when he made this opportune observation some years ago: “Latin America has received great missionaries, but they did not teach us to be missionaries”. The missionary reawakening of our continent is a recent fact and it was not easy to get used to: to indicate the most important and indicative laps of this missionary awakening we refer to the Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Conferences in Puebla in 1979. We would like to see Africa arrive late, as we did. With regard to Asia, my opinion is not so clear cut: in Asia distances are enormous, language differences multiple and the Catholic presence is not numerically significant. Therefore I would see Regional Mission Congresses to be more useful.
In your experience what aspects could be useful for other Churches to increase mission?
One aspect not to be overlooked is that all missionary efforts must present Christianity and establish a local Church which from the beginning feels it is missionary. We must admit that, especially for Latin America, living centuries waiting for the arrival of missionaries from other countries delayed its Christian and missionary development: in fact the local Churches considered themselves objects of evangelisation and they were little inclined to develop their missionary responsibility. We would not want to see this experience repeated in the Churches of Africa or Asia. However I must say that some Churches in Asia, despite small numbers, have already borne extraordinary and numerous fruits of authentic missionary spirit, for example South Korea, India and the Philippines.
Another aspect to underline which we saw in this period of preparation for CAM 2, and which I think could be useful for all local Churches, was a recurring necessity to meet between bishops, priests, religious men and women, committed laity – in other words the living forces of mission -. We saw an extraordinary mutual enrichment which will undoubtedly continue to be positive for our local Churches, not only with regard to missionary activity but for all the commitments of our ecclesial communities.
A third aspect was awareness of the necessity of theological re-thinking and the urgent need to coordinate the numerous missionologists of our continent and to form an Association of Catholic di Missionologists … It is taking its first steps and already producing fruit. In February 2004 at San Jose de Costa Rica there will be a Meeting of many American missionologists which will certainly be of benefit for our local Churches. Our dream is that our Continent of Hope, as Pope John Paul II calls it, will soon become the Continent of missionary hope for the whole world. (S:L.) (Fides Service 19/11/2003 - lines.83, words 1052)