Echoes from the Plenary Council – 22nd November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 22nd November 2019


Didier gave this morning a very thorough introduction to the theme of mission. He started by stating clearly that Mission is the manifestation of our identity and clearly defines who we are and want to be for it is at the heart of our life. As Pope Francis says it is in our DNA. Lavigerie preferred to use the word Apostolate and would write to Fr. Livinhac in 1880 to say that that only important task is the apostolate anything else is peripheral. For him the model for us all should be the Apostles reflected by a holy, zealous, and mortified life, not backing away from any difficulty, not even death, when it comes to extending the kingdom of God. We must not be over absorbed by personal issues, finances or whatever but have our eyes fixed on what is our finality: Mission.

Already with the letter sent out by the General Council in view of the extraordinary month of mission certain areas of conversion were highlighted: lack of missionary dynamism, a loss of the missionary reflex, pastoral routine, a preference for our comfort zones, a lack of resilience. Indeed, we are sent by Christ to a complex changing world and as the 2016 chapter pointed out the key word is our fidelity to the charism that is ours, a fidelity to our roots and the orientations bequeathed by our founder. This has enabled a certain renewal in all our provinces and sections and a growing number of confreres working in the peripheries, at the service of migrants, against human trafficking and often in collaboration with our MSOLA. Yet despite that there is a certain lack of energy and drive, even a certain stagnation. What is all important is to identify the obstacles for the realisation of the ideals proposed by the chapter.   How can we can we maintain the renewal that has begun and how can listen to the appeals that are made to the Society?

We have always been concerned with JPIC -ED and the work of our confreres throughout the years is truly laudable. The workshop that was held in Rome in March 2018 convinced all the participants to seek even more how to live passionately these two important aspects of our missionary identity. Indeed, encounter and dialogue is at the heart of our missionary vocation and we are proud of the work done by our centres in this all important area (PISAI, IFIC, Tangaza end others). With the rise of Jihadist terrorism, the voice of such dialogue and encounter must be there to help our local churches and contribute to a truer understanding of Islam. Since 2017 two meetings took place between two of our centres working for such dialogue to seek ways of extending their influence beyond the walls of their centres. Ecumenism was often the poor relation of Encounter. We were able to host in Rome a workshop: Ecumenical dialogue a call for a prophetic engagement.  

The peripheries.  

Certainly a very important criterion when looking for new insertions. Hence the chapter asking us to discern just where we might seek to minister and work in collaboration with others. South Sudan comes to mind and such urgent appeals may well mean that certain of our existing insertions could be handed over. Yet just what have we handed over since the Chapter?  The Chapter also exhorted us to make all our parishes missionary parishes. 

Migrants Human Trafficking and Refugees. 

The Chapter desired all provinces and sections to be mobilised over the issue of Human Trafficking in collaboration with our MSOLA and other organisations. In fact, a lot has been done and many confreres are involved. We can think especially with our involvement with ‘Talitha kum’. Such a call also enabled us to hear the appeal of the bishops of Uganda begging for our presence amongst the refugees in the camps of Arua. Already our two superiors General (M.Afr and MSOLA) have visited the bishop of Arua and the camps in question. This is indeed a pertinent and prophetic calling which hopefully we are ready to answer. Our General council goes even further by suggesting that we return to South Sudan where indeed the needs are so great. Surely to answer to these two urgent appeals would be one way of our Jubilee year bearing fruit that will last by our prophetic commitment. Yet such displaced populations are not just the concern of Uganda for it is an ever increasing reality faced by other provinces where insecurity is becoming a major issue. 

Mission of the Society to the African world and wherever our charism is solicited. 

For many this directive coming from the last chapter has created a new dynamism in our missionary endeavour in PEP and AMS.  However there are voices raised against our new insertions in places like Liverpool or Brooklyn and elsewhere. Surely though our charism is always in a state of becoming and must respond to a changing world where our charism is indeed solicited and where our missionary presence is needed. 

Such a  changing world is also  very apparent in places like PAC and PAO that are experiencing more and more situations of insecurity and violence: The Church has not been spared such attacks. In such situations, what attitude should we adopt? To leave or to stay? What guidance can we give to manage such situations? Such questions we have to face realising that no one ever said that we must run away from difficult situations and surely we must think of our desire to be with our people in thick and thin.  It calls for a true discernment and we will try to look at such questions in our next group meetings and plenary sessions. We will keep you posted.

Francis Barnes

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