In our Society, we are talking more and more about “our missionary projects outside Africa.” In order to understand our position better, it might be a good idea to publish the letter of Pope Francis commemorating the centenary of the Apostolic letter of Benedict XV “Maximum Illud” published in 1919. I quote two little phrases so that you may understand why I am saying this:
“All renewal in the Church should have as its goal the Mission, so as not to fall into the temptation of a Church centred in on itself ”.
“That the approach of the centenary (of this Apostolic Letter) may be a stimulant to go beyond the recurrent temptation which is hidden beneath every form of ecclesial introversion: “a continual reference to itself and a withdrawal into its comfort zone, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past ”.
I keep two words which seem to be the same: a Church centred in on itself and ecclesiastical introversion. For the Pope this is a recurrent temptation which can be just as much present in Africa as in Europe.
We want to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the foundation of our Society. Our Founder wished to unify Africa and Europe in the same faith where we are all brothers and sisters. The temptations that the Pope speaks about are the temptations that separate us from one another. The Pope points to the institutional Church as constantly referring to itself and withdrawing into its comfort zones. These temptations lead to a loss of missionary momentum. Hence the wish of the Pope: that missionary enthusiasm never be stolen from us.
However where can we find these temptations that undermine missionary enthusiasm? Are we afraid to look them in the face? How do we point them out in a charitable way?
Pope Francis comes back on this by repeating the words of John Paul II, “missionary activity, even today, represents the biggest challenge for the Church.”
A Church which is not missionary in Europe or in Africa is not that of Jesus Christ.
Confining the Church of Africa or Europe to geographical borders is to smother it and to prevent it from growing. The Church is called to grow in unity and sharing. A Church which closes in on itself is a Church which lacks the breath of the Spirit and it will slowly die. For Pope Francis, the proclamation of the Gospel should lead to “concrete actions of cooperation and solidarity between Churches.” The letter comes across as a call to “a pastoral and missionary conversion everywhere the Church is found based on the reality that we are living”.
We have known the time when the Church was especially alive when she shared her faith and sent missionaries to America, Africa and Asia. Now we are experiencing a loss of missionary momentum of the Church in Europe.
This is sometimes accompanied by the temptation of self-sufficiency which the Pope qualified as ecclesiastical introversion.
The Pope seems to want to invite the Church to a double initiative: Find a language, translated into concrete actions which will attract young people to cooperation with other Churches.
Joy and humility in welcoming missionaries coming from Churches of other countries that make our Church more catholic.
The temptation of a well-established Church in Africa, independent and self-sufficient because of abundant religious and priestly vocations is becoming too close to adopting a clerical mentality. To the extent that this desire to be self-sufficient is uncovered, it closes the doors to missionaries who would like to collaborate with the Church in Africa. This, in particular, would separate us from our Saviour Jesus who brings us together in his love. The big wish of Jesus that all may be one would be shattered into little pieces.
Allow me to finish with the wish of Pope Francis: May we never be robbed of missionary enthusiasm.
German Arconada, M.Afr.