Time for section (b) of John Paul II’s “Parameters of the Church’s Mission Ad Gentes.” At some point, I might get these back on a schedule for early morning, but for now, let’s have an evening read on “New worlds and new social phenomena.”
The rapid and profound transformations which characterize today’s world, especially in the southern hemisphere, are having a powerful effect on the overall missionary picture. Where before there were stable human and social situations, today everything is in flux. One thinks, for example, of urbanization and the massive growth of cities, especially where demographic pressure is greatest. In not a few countries, over half the population already lives in a few “megalopolises,” where human problems are often aggravated by the feeling of anonymity experienced by masses of people.
Pope Francis has also noted this in his writings, and in the past three decades, the situation has worsened for many people, believers and not, especially the poor and needy.
In the modern age, missionary activity has been carried out especially in isolated regions which are far from centers of civilization and which are hard to penetrate because of difficulties of communication, language or climate.
Time for a shift to urban areas? That’s the prescription:
Today the image of mission ad gentes is perhaps changing: efforts should be concentrated on the big cities, where new customs and styles of living arise together with new forms of culture and communication, which then influence the wider population. It is true that the “option for the neediest” means that we should not overlook the most abandoned and isolated human groups, but it is also true that individual or small groups cannot be evangelized if we neglect the centers where a new humanity, so to speak, is emerging, and where new models of development are taking shape. The future of the younger nations is being shaped in the cities.
Ministry in cities will remain an effort with and for the neediest. Urban focus has been where the Church’s clergy have traditionally been concentrated. If there is a shift, it may well require more teamwork between laity and priests. Lay people have long made up the bulk of those missionaries in rural outposts. It may be more true than ever today.
The Church doesn’t do youth and young adult ministry very well in most parishes and First World faith communities, so there’s another challenge for us:
Speaking of the future, we cannot forget the young, who in many countries comprise more than half the population. How do we bring the message of Christ to non-Christian young people who represent the future of entire continents? Clearly, the ordinary means of pastoral work are not sufficient: what are needed are associations, institutions, special centers and groups, and cultural and social initiatives for young people. This is a field where modern ecclesial movements have ample room for involvement.
I might disagree with ecclesial movements as a needed primary player. Priests and lay missionaries who cannot relate to and inspire young people are crippled in their apostolate. On one level, young professionals, students, the newly married, and adolescents are not a different species. It does require a desire to get to know people younger, sometimes significantly younger, than oneself. Many people manage it well. Appointing specialized ministers, as happens in American parishes, isn’t always a fruitful strategy. Many young people I’ve known have recognized when ministry to the young is half-hearted, or even avoided.
I do suspect Pope John Paul II knew this. His effective disciple-making among young people was accomplished as a parish priest–not a high school teacher or college campus minister or a member of a new religious initiative. He knew how to make friends and inspire others.
More humans are on the move today than ever before, and it’s not likely to change. I would say the shift to urban life has mostly been accomplished already. If climate shifts continue, we will see great upheaval leading to movement as people search for food, safety, and livelihoods in this century.
Among the great changes taking place in the contemporary world, migration has produced a new phenomenon: non-Christians are becoming very numerous in traditionally Christian countries, creating fresh opportunities for contacts and cultural exchanges, and calling the Church to hospitality, dialogue, assistance and, in a word, fraternity.
A word on migrants:
Among migrants, refugees occupy a very special place and deserve the greatest attention. Today there are many millions of refugees in the world and their number is constantly increasing. They have fled from conditions of political oppression and inhuman misery, from famine and drought of catastrophic proportions. The Church must make them part of her overall apostolic concern.
A failing grade for my nation on this front, certainly. And the remnants of the culturewar have led to a mixed reaction from American Catholics.
Americans with a conservative bent would have hoped popes steer clear of this kind of talk:
Finally, we may mention the situations of poverty – often on an intolerable scale – which have been created in not a few countries, and which are often the cause of mass migration. The community of believers in Christ is challenged by these inhuman situations: the proclamation of Christ and the kingdom of God must become the means for restoring the human dignity of these people.
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