Vatican City (Fides Service) - “Very suitably the Holy Father has chosen as his missionary intention for March 2004 the intensification of collaboration between missionary institutes and the local Churches in Africa, considering the diversity of charisms of these institutes.
1. Diversity of Charisms.
We thank God that there is a rich variety of charisms among the missionary institutes that operate in the dioceses in Africa. A great gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church is already manifested in the fact of the consecrated life itself. The living of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience is luminous witness to the fact that "the kingdom of God and its overmastering necessities are superior to all earthly considerations" (Lumen Gentium, 44).
Missionary institutes have such charisms as catechesis, teaching in schools (kindergarten, primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational or other), medical apostolate, service of the poor, the orphan, the old, the refugee or the social outcast, special apostolates for the young, the family, the intellectual elite or prisoners, the apostolate of the book, the press, the radio, the television and their derivatives.
Deserving special mention are the contemplative life and primary evangelisation among peoples who do not yet know Jesus Christ.
Whichever way we look at it, we must thank God that there is a rich diversity of charisms among missionary institutes working in Africa.
2. Importance of Collaboration.
It sounds almost banal to say that the best results will be obtained when these institutes intensify their collaboration with the local Church. St Paul often spoke of his fellow-labourers, his co-workers in the work of evangelization: like Timothy, Titus, Luke, Apollos, Priscilla, Aquila, Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Epaphroditus, Tychicus and Onesumus (cf I Cor 16:12-17; Phil 4:18; Col 4:7-9).
Every particular Church or diocese in Africa has some problems and challenges which cannot be adequately faced if the various apostolic forces in the diocese are not harmonised and united in planning and action. Examples are the need to develop a well thought-out approach to youth apostolate, to service of the poor and sick, to education in its many forms and to challenges posed by political instability or lack of harmony between differing ethnic groups. If duplication of effort, and the consequent development of parallel programmes between various Church institutions within a diocese are to be avoided, then collaboration between missionary institutes and the diocese will have to be intensified.
3. Role of the Bishop is crucial.
The role of the Diocesan Bishop in the promotion of collaboration between the diocese and missionary institutes is of crucial importance. As the Second Vatican Council puts it, "it is the role of the bishop, as the ruler and centre of unity in the diocesan apostolate, to promote missionary activity, to direct it, and to coordinate it, but always in such a way that the spontaneous zeal of those who share in the work will be preserved and fostered. All missionaries, even exempt religious, are subject to his power in the various works which involve the exercise of the sacred apostolate" (Ad Gentes, 30).
Respecting the charism of each missionary institute, whether founded in the country in question or coming from elsewhere, the Bishop will find ways to enable each of them give of its best. The Bishop, after all, is the spiritual father of all the people of God in the diocese.
The experience of the Church has led to the publication of guidelines to enable a diocese and a missionary institute to work out a written document of cooperation. Such indications can help to channel apostolic energies and prevent avoidable tension. Thus a climate can be created where excellent witness can be given to Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, and the one hope of all humanity.
We pray this month of March 2004 that collaboration between missionary institutes and dioceses in Africa may be intensified.
Francis Card. Arinze 8 December, 2003.
(Fides Service 21/2/2004 EM lines 57 Words: 700)