If we were to identify the one quality Pope John Paul II desired most from his brother bishops with regard to the missionary apostolate, I would identify it as generosity. The bishops of Latin America certainly identified this as a necessary virtue for themselves in their gathering in Puebla:
Each particular church must be generous and open to the needs of the other churches. Cooperation between the churches, in an authentic reciprocity that prepares them both to give and to receive, is a source of enrichment for all of them and touches the various spheres of ecclesial life. In this respect, the declaration of the bishops at Puebla is exemplary: “The hour has finally come for Latin America…to be projected beyond her frontiers, ad gentes. Certainly we have need of missionaries ourselves, nevertheless we must give from our own poverty.”(Puebla Document (1979): 2941 (368))
The “distribution of clergy” is a significant issue:
In the same spirit, I exhort bishops and Episcopal Conferences to act generously in implementing the provisions of the norms which the Congregation for the Clergy issued regarding cooperation between particular churches and especially regarding the better distribution of clergy in the world. (Cf. Norms for the Cooperation of the Local Churches Among Themselves and especially for a Better Distribution of the Clergy in the World Postquam Apostoli (March 25, 1980))
Many dioceses struggle with this within their own boundaries. Large parishes often get more, despite being able to afford a lay staff with enough competence to manage a sizable faith community. I’ve also read of Third World bishops who are concerned about their clergy leaving for the First World and not returning. As much as we would like to think of African or Asian “booms” in vocations, for the most part, their “shortage” of clergy is more severe than in North America or Europe. Generosity is an important virtue, but prudence ranks a bit higher, and is perhaps more in play in some situations.
A final word of advice for bishops:
The Church’s mission is wider than the “communion among the churches”; it ought to be directed not only to aiding re-evangelization but also and primarily to missionary activity as such. I appeal to all the churches, young and old alike, to share in this concern of mine by seeking to overcome the various obstacles and increase missionary vocations.
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