Introduction

As we begin our reflection, we have to say that in some way the whole of NMI (Novo Millennio Ineunte) exudes the mission. It is entirely pervaded with a missionary nuance. We believe that all of NMI is written from a missionary viewpoint: that is, it tries to proclaim Jesus Christ the Savior so that all men will obtain his love and mercy, reach the Kingdom of God as soon as possible, and humanity will find its fullness in Christ.

The fundamental points which the Pope proposes for the Church’s pastoral action are completely valid, applicable and necessary for any missionary activity either within the Church (the new evangelization and international pastoral work), or outside the Church (mission ad gentes). Faced with a situation of de Christianization and secularism today, Christ’s message needs to be proposed to the majority of men, whether they are baptized or not. In other words, what John Paul II proposes in NMI has a missionary objective that is valid both for our Christian communities and for the persons and groups that still do not know Jesus Christ.

Naturally, we will stress the second aspect of the mission ad gentes, but we would insist that in the current historical context, whatever can be said in one sense is also valid in the other, especially in consideration of the Church’s missionary nature.

NMI is in line with Redemptoris Missio. The main points of RM appear again in NMI, which adds some nuances in conformity with the present situation in the Church and humanity. We find ourselves in some very special circumstances, and we would do well to listen to what Paul VI said: <<The Church needs a perennial Pentecost: it needs fire in its heart, words on its lips, and prophecy in its eyes>>.

1. The Church is invited to <<put out into the deep>> in its missionary activity

The hope of Christians is the motor of the future. Theological hope, which grows as confidence in God’s promises, is purified at times during the waiting. According to John Paul II, the mission continues to be a current task of the Church. Men need God’s love and mercy. Man without God is not a man. The evangelization of humanity is the best service that can be rendered to it. The mission is just about to make its debut. The Kingdom of God has to be implanted all over the world so that men will find happiness in friendship with God.

In NMI, John Paul II stresses that people want to see Jesus; they hunger and thirst for God, like parched, withered, waterless land (Cf. Psalm 60). The Church has to give them Christ, the fullness of truth. <<“We wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). This request, addressed to the Apostle Philip by some Greeks who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, echoes spiritually in our ears during this Jubilee Year. Like those pilgrims two thousand years ago, the men and women of our own day often perhaps unconsciously - ask believers not only to “speak” about Christ, but in a certain sense to “show” him to them. And is it not the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium? >> (NMI 16).

This evangelization aspect was among the objectives of the Council and the recent Jubilee. The Church was called to renewal in order to take on its evangelization mission with new ardor because before evangelizing, it is necessary to be evangelized, to have been converted by the Word, the sacraments, the Spirit and faith. Only then can we give authentic witness to what <<we have seen and heard>>. First of all, it is necessary to experience God whose love is manifested in Christ. It is also necessary to look forward and not remain in the past, however beautiful it may have been. God never stops.

The Council, and later the Jubilee, sought to renew the Church so that it would take on its evangelization mission with new ardor. Basically, they both had an evangelization objective.

Consequently, in agreement with the ends of the Council and the Jubilee, NMI seeks to remind the Church, each and every one of us, that it is our duty to bring all men to God, or God to all men, that the mission goes on, that some objectives have been achieved, but there is still much terrain to be broken and cultivated, and the task must not be given up.

2. Paths through which the Church’s mission must pass

NMI also indicates the paths through which the Church’s mission must be carried out at present. One thing is not the same as another: the Church is not an NGO. This is not a question of evangelizing like a charitable institution. Pope John Paul II stresses some elements that we would like to underline, some of which are rather new.

    a) The need to contemplate Christ’s face

Evangelization has to be based on contemplating Christ. Evangelization cannot forget the <<Christological>> aspect. A missionary-and every responsible Christian-is a contemplative, someone who cannot fail to communicate what he has seen and heard. He keeps in mind the dead and risen Christ, the wisdom and strength of God, on which he has meditated carefully, whose mission he has adopted, and in whose name he is sent.

<<Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face. The Great Jubilee has certainly helped us to do this more deeply. At the end of the Jubilee, as we go back to our ordinary routine, storing in our hearts the treasures of this very special time, our gaze is more than ever firmly set on the face of the Lord>> (NMI 16).

On June I, 2001, John Paul II said these words in his discourse to 45 participants in the XII General Chapter of the Pontifical Institute for the Foreign Missions (PIME) on the occasion of the Chapter’s .closing and the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Institute’s foundation:

<<...Years and centuries go by, yet Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the center of the individual and community life of those who belong to him ....If you plan to re-appraise the proper charism of your Institute in order to revitalize the congregation, it is essential, from this point of view, to set out anew from the central place of Christ in community life and in personal witness. Should a “Christological weakness” ever slip into your activity, then your work of evangelization might risk being reduced to a prevalently social, charitable activity or one of pastoral organization>>.

    b) The need for holiness and spirituality: personal experience and proclamation of the Word of God, prayer and the Eucharist

NMI stresses that the Church’s pastoral action, both within and outside the Church, has to be based on holiness through the practice of prayer, the Eucharist, the sacrament of Penance (the liturgy), and listening to and obeying the Word. It is necessary to go back to the spirit of the early Christians. <<There is no doubt that this primacy of holiness and prayer is inconceivable without a renewed listening to the word of God. Ever since the Second Vatican Council underlined the pre-eminent role of the word of God in the life of the Church, great progress has certainly been made in devout listening to Sacred Scripture and attentive study of it. Scripture has its rightful place of honor in the public prayer of the Church. Individuals and communities now make extensive use of the Bible, and among lay people there are many who devote themselves to Scripture with the valuable help of theological and biblical studies. But it is above all the work of evangelization and catechesis which is drawing new life from attentiveness to the word of God. Dear brothers and sisters, this development needs to be consolidated and deepened, also by making sure that every family has a Bible. It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives>> (NMI 39).

<<This passion will not fail to stir in the Church a new sense of mission, which cannot be left to a group of “specialists” but must involve the responsibility of all the members of the People of God. Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him. A new apostolic outreach is needed, which will be lived as the everyday commitment of Christian communities and groups. This should be done however with the respect due to the different paths of different people and with sensitivity to the diversity of cultures in which the Christian message must be planted, in such a way that the particular values of each people will not be rejected but purified and brought to their fullness>> (NMI 40).

    c) The need for communion: the spirituality of communion

It is not possible to evangelize if we are drifting and disconnected from the Church or the community of brethren. An evangelizer is not a sniper. The Church is a community brought together by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Cf. LG 4). All Christians, therefore, are part of this great family, <<one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is father>> (Eph 4:5), and we have the one same mission.

To make the Church the home and school of communion: this is the great challenge we have before us in the millennium that is beginning if we want to be faithful to God’s design and respond to the deep expectations of the world. This is every missionary and evangelizer’s educational principle, for without it nothing has meaning, and outside of it everything is a dream and a falsehood. Hence the identification has to be based on the experience of Trinitarian life, which not only teaches us, but also shapes us so that we will be <<living signs>> of communion. The Church is the image of the Trinity and this is its great good fortune. Communion always makes room for our brethren.

<<Communion must be cultivated and extended day by day and at every level in the structures of each Church’s life. There, relations between Bishops, priests and deacons, between Pastors and the entire People of God, between clergy and Religious, between associations and ecclesial movements must all be clearly characterized by communion>> (NMI 45).

The areas of poverty and indigence around the world are very many and varied. We, Christians, have to exercise our influence over them and try to put into practice what John Paul II calls a new <<resourcefulness of charity>> so that the poor will come to feel at home in the Church.

<<We must therefore ensure that in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the Kingdom? Without this form of evangelization through charity and without the witness of Christian poverty the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications. The charity of works ensures an unmistakable efficacy to the charity of words>> (NMI 50).

    e) The need to follow Christ in a radical way

To evangelize in an authentic way is to follow the crucified Christ in a radical way. The guarantee of ecclesial fruitfulness is based on this. Jesus said, <<Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest>> (Jn 24:24). <<The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians>> (Tertullian). The path of love until death is the road that many martyrs have followed throughout history, witnesses to the faith, both in the past and the present.

<<May the shining example of the many witnesses to the faith whom we have remembered during the Jubilee sustain and guide us in this confident, enterprising and creative sense of mission. For the Church, the martyrs have always been a seed of life. Sanguis martyrum semen christianorum: this famous “law” formulated by Tertullian has proved true in all the trials of history. Will this not also be the case of the century and millennium now beginning? Perhaps we were too used to thinking of the martyrs in rather distant terms, as though they were a category of the past, associated especially with the first centuries of the Christian era. The Jubilee remembrance has presented us with a surprising vista, showing. us that our own time is particularly prolific in witnesses, who in different ways were able to live the Gospel in the midst of hostility and persecution, often to the point of the supreme test of shedding their blood. In them the word of God, sown in good soil, yielded a hundred fold (cf. Mt 13:8, 23). By their example they have shown us, and made smooth for us, so to speak, the path to the future. All that remains for us is, with God’s grace, to follow in their footsteps>> (NMI 41).

    f) To evangelize based on the confidence and optimism we get from the constant, acting presence of the Holy Spirit

The Spirit urges the Church to <<put out into the deep>>. Stagnation is not characteristic of the Spirit of Christ or of an authentic Christian. There has always been a tendency in the Church to stop, to examine the difficulties and its own possibilities too much, and to look backwards after putting its hand on the plough.

As we can deduce from the warnings of Revelation, the first Christian communities also tended to get weary, to be apathetic and to grow cold spiritually. <<Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus and say, Here is the message of the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who lives surrounded by the seven golden lamp stands: I know all about you: how hard you work and how much you put up with. I know you cannot stand wicked men, and how you tested the impostors who called themselves apostles and proved they were liars. I know, too, that you have patience, and have suffered for my name without growing tired. Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make; you have less love now than you used to. Think where you were before you fell; repent and do as you used to at first or else, if you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp stand from its place. It is in your favor, nevertheless, that you loathe as I do what Nicola tans are doing. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: those who prove victorious I will feed from the tree of life set in God’s paradise>> (Rev 2:1-7).

For this reason, at the end of the Letter NMI, Pope John Paul II calls us to hope and enthusiasm and to put out into the deep, sustained by the Holy Spirit, with Christ’s promise that he will not leave us orphans, but be at our sides until the end of time (Cf. Mt 28:20), together with Mary, the Mother of the Church and Star of the new evangelization. Of course, we have the strength of the Eucharist, especially the Sunday Eucharist where we can meet with the Lord like the two from Emmaus.

Our pace at the beginning of this new century, therefore, will have to grow faster as we travel over the byways of the world. The paths are many over which each one of us from our Churches walks, but there are no distances between those who are united by the one communion, the communion that is nourished every day at the table of the Eucharistic Bread and the Word of Life. Every Sunday the Risen Christ summons us again as in the Cenacle, where as the <<first day of the week>> (Jn 20:19) grew dark, he appeared to his own to <<breathe>> the life-giving gifts of the Spirit upon them and start them off on the great adventure of evangelization.

    g) The new evangelization has to pay special attention to the pastoral care of vocations, youth, the family and the laity

We are all sent into the vineyard. The mission cannot be understood as something for the <<bravest ones>> who are capable of leaving their homes, town and country to go far away. It is everyone’s duty to proclaim the Gospel. In every corner of the world, the Kingdom of God must be set up. For this, it will be necessary to promote the lay vocation, movements, associations, the pastoral care of vocations, the family and youth.

<<Therefore the Church of the Third Millennium will need to encourage all the baptized and confirmed to be aware of their active responsibility in the Church’s life. Together with the ordained ministry, other ministries, whether formally instituted or simply recognized, can flourish for the good of the whole community, sustaining it in all its many needs: from catechesis to liturgy, from the education of the young to the widest array of charitable works... There is a pressing need to implement an extensive plan of vocational promotion, based on personal contact and involving parishes, schools and families in the effort to foster a more attentive reflection on life’s essential values. These reach their fulfillment in the response which each person is invited to give to God’s call, particularly when the call implies a total giving of self and of one's energies to the cause of the Kingdom>>. (NMI 46).

3. Some current challenges facing the Church's missionary activity

John Paul II is aware that our era presents some particular features or challenges that will have to be kept in mind in evangelization in order to give them an adequate response based on Christ’s message. Among others, the following stand out: inter-religious dialogue, the search for peace, the phenomenon of globalization, and inculturation.

    a) Inter-religious dialogue

There is no doubt that the present has its challenges. The Spirit never leaves us inactive and paralyzed, satisfied with our achievements, or distressed by the goals that have not been attained. Life is always new. The whole immense, complex area has grown of ecumenical, inter-religious dialogue and contacts with exponents of other religions and cultures, religious pluralism, forms of fundamentalism, efforts for peace, and the coming together of cultures, races and religions.

In our relations with our separated brethren or with members of other religions, a sincere dialogue must be set up, which is listening and being listened to, based on respect love and fidelity to the Gospel message, while seeking more what unites us rather than what divides us. Here, too, it is necessary to have confidence and hope in God’s action, because very beautiful times are starting to be seen even in the midst of difficulties and darkness. The Church is asked to be faithful to the Spirit and the message of its Master, deep prayer, conversion and great respect for the values of our other brethren.

<<A new century, a new millennium are opening in the light of Christ. But not everyone can see this light. Ours is the wonderful and demanding task of becoming its “reflection” ...This is a daunting task if we consider our human weakness, which so often renders us opaque and full of shadows. But it is a task which we can accomplish if we turn to the light of Christ and open ourselves to the grace which makes us a new creation>> (NMI 54).

    b) Inculturation

<<In the Third Millennium, Christianity will have to respond ever more effectively to this need for inculturation. Christianity, while remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root... Christ must be presented to all people with confidence. We shall address adults, families, young people, children, without ever hiding the most radical demands of the Gospel message, but taking into account each person’s needs in regard to their sensitivity and language, after the example of Paul who declared: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:22). In making these recommendations, I am thinking especially of the pastoral care of young people. Precisely in regard to young people, as I said earlier, the Jubilee has given us an encouraging testimony of their generous availability. We must learn to interpret that heartening response, by investing that enthusiasm like a new talent (cf. Mt 25:15) which the Lord has put into our hands so that we can make it yield a rich return>> (NMI 40).

    c) Ecology, peace, fundamental human rights and the defense of life

In the missionary task, some important themes must be taken into consideration such as ecology, peace, fundamental human rights, and the defense of life. An incarnated spirituality is needed and the ability to go beyond a hidden, individualistic religion, in fidelity to Christ and man, even if we will not be understood in some cases or even scorned.

<<And how can we remain indifferent to the prospect of an ecological crisis which is making vast areas of our planet uninhabitable and hostile to humanity? Or by the problems of peace, so often threatened by the specter of catastrophic wars? Or by contempt for the fundamental human rights of so many people, especially children? Countless are the emergencies to which every Christian heart must be sensitive.

A special commitment is needed with regard to certain aspects of the Gospel’s radical message which are often less well understood, even to the point of making the Church’s presence unpopular, but which nevertheless must be a part of her mission of charity. I am speaking of the duty to be committed to respect for the life of every human being, from conception until natural death. Likewise, the service of humanity leads us to insist, in season and out of season, that those using the latest advances of science, especially in the field of biotechnology, must never disregard fundamental ethical requirements by invoking a questionable solidarity which eventually leads to discriminating between one life and another and ignoring the dignity which belongs to every human being>> (NMI 51).

    d) Globalization, the great themes of bioethics, social justice, the institution of the family and conjugal life

In this direction, we can cite some other challenges and problems that Pope John Paul II mentioned in his final homily at the 2001 Consistory. This endorses and expands what he said in NMI: secularization, the general transformation of the cultural horizon dominated by the primacy of the experimental sciences inspired by the criteria of scientific epistemology, the phenomenon of globalization, the major themes of bioethics, social justice, the institution of the family and conjugal life.

In the same way, in speaking to the members of the PIME (June 1, 2001), the Holy Father acknowledged that humanity is facing many problems that influence missionary activity. Specifically, he mentioned globalization, ethnocentricity, the temptation to construct a <<do-it-yourself>> religion, <<the closing of quite a few countries to the presence of missionaries and direct evangelization>>, and the aging of the members working in the mission.

In Christ, dead and arisen, we are certain that all these challenges are a grace, and that they will serve the good of the Church and humanity. What is needed now is to tackle them in conformity with the principles listed earlier.

To sum up everything that has been said, we have to say that the <<missionary dimension>> of the Church appears constantly in NMI, or, in other words, that the entire content of NMI has a missionary meaning and direction, whether it is understood as the <<new evangelization>> or the mission ad gentes.

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Omnis Terra  ©ºÑº ¡Ñ¹ÂÒ¹-µØÅÒ¤Á-¾ÄȨԡÒ¹ 2004,
˹éÒ 322-328