I can’t say that’s I’ve been a missionary in the sense of serving in a place away from my homeland. It was only recently (2008-15) that intentional discipleship became a ministry focus in which I was welcomed. I can’t address the notion Pope John Paul II presented here, but I’m a skeptic in a broader context of conversion. I’ll explain below. But here’s the text:
Nowadays the call to conversion which missionaries address to non-Christians is put into question or passed over in silence. It is seen as an act of “proselytizing”; it is claimed that it is enough to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion, that it is enough to build communities capable of working for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. What is overlooked is that every person has the right to hear the “Good News” of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling. This lofty reality is expressed in the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God,” and in the unconscious but ardent desire of the woman: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst” (Jn 4:10, 15).
I suspect this is true as much in the First World as it is in mission lands. I think Christianity for the US, Rome, and long-time Christian cultures has become “safe.” It has devolved from an active life as a missionary disciple into a membership in a society. A country club, if you will.
Roman Catholics have been satisfied to assign the task of discipleship to a qualified few: official missionaries-for-life, usually people committed to the priesthood or religious life. This was the grounding for Vatican II, and it was a foundation we struggle mightily to build upon.
I think most Catholics lack the tools, formation, and self-confidence to introduce others to Jesus. This includes clergy, and most bishops. I don’t believe this is a situation of intentional malice. It is our modern poverty, perhaps a Tridentine poverty, but it continues in a post-Vatican II Church.
Human beings of all sorts, Christians, those of other faiths, and those of no faith, can understand helping a sister or brother in need. This is good work, and endorsed by the example of the Lord himself in his many miracles of healing, feeding, and his simple approach of accompaniment and listening. We need to get beyond the notion that rich American can send their medical supplies and food, and their wealthy doctors and college students and parishioners on “mission” to “help” needy people in deprived areas. As I said, this is good work. But it’s not the only work.
When missionaries themselves are not disciples, it is inconceivable to think that they can make disciples without a mountain of grace from God. Perhaps it happens here and there. As I see it, John Paul’s criticism is not without merit, but the blame rests with the Magisterium and its failure to recognize the signs within the core cultures of Christianity. If we fail, we do so for lack of formation, guidance, and support. And holding on too closely to old ways of being the Church.
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