Conversion and Baptism give entry into a Church already in existence or require the establishment of new communities which confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. This is part of God’s plan, for it pleases him “to call human beings to share in his own life not merely as individuals, without any unifying bond between them, but rather to make them into a people in which his children, who had been widely scattered, might be gathered together in unity.”(Ad Gentes 2; cf. Lumen Gentium 9)
Communities of varying sizes, types, etc., are essential. No Christian can do it alone. Our history is full of saintly figures, but we don’t often attend to the friendships and associations they fashioned. Sure, founders are revered. But good disciples are formed by families, parishes, small groups, and all sorts of associations.
The mission ad gentes has this objective: to found Christian communities and develop churches to their full maturity.
This has not always been true in the era of European colonialism. The Tridentine Church was certainly hamstrung by cultural expectations of the imperial nations. More from Vatican II:
This is a central and determining goal of missionary activity, so much so that the mission is not completed until it succeeds in building a new particular church which functions normally in its local setting. The Decree Ad Gentes deals with this subject at length,(Cf. Ad Gentes, Chapter III, 19-22) and since the Council, a line of theological reflection has developed which emphasizes that the whole mystery of the Church is contained in each particular church, provided it does not isolate itself but remains in communion with the universal Church and becomes missionary in its own turn.
This is an ideal situation, of course.
Here we are speaking of a great and lengthy process, in which it is hard to identify the precise stage at which missionary activity properly so-called comes to an end and is replaced by pastoral activity. Even so, certain points must remain clear.
And we will get to these points of the Holy Father in the rest of this topic. My own sense is that it never comes to an end. For Christians, such activity takes place in all ages and locations. We don’t assume that a Christian-dominant culture, politics, aristocracy, working class, arts, music, etc. mean that every single soul has aligned to Jesus. That assumption has greatly damaged us, steering us to a focus on heaven and salvation within the Body, rather than attending to the Lord’s mandate of kerygma and baptism (cf. Matt 28:19-20) and all creation (cf. Mark 16:15).
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