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THARAKAN John, Hyderabad says,
IS MISSIONARY ACTIVITY STILL RELEVANT TODAY?
By John Tharakan
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Hyderabad, Oct. 27. Fr Alfred Maravilla started CAGLIERO 11, November 2020, with the question: IS MISSIONARY ACTIVITY STILL RELEVANT TODAY?

I was wondering why the question included the word STILL. I was reminded of the popular hymn of Fr. Peter Gonsalves, God still loves the world.``

He has given two Questions for Reflection and Sharing:
 Why is missionary activity still relevant today?
 Why is the missionary vocation a call within our common Salesian vocation?

I just thought that I would respond as an individual receiving this newsletter regularly. I liked what I read. I must congratulate the Mission Team for the good work they are doing. Now to the two questions.

The first question presumes the answer, YES. Rather than answer WHY and go around in circles, ad infinitum, I would look at it with other question words:

WHAT is missionary activity today? WHAT was the original meaning of Christ`s call? The call of Christ remains the same, then and now. In between, at different times, people, including Don Bosco, understood it in varied ways. Don Bosco was a man of his times. Those were the times of hectic activities focussed on colonisation, for the State and for the Church. These are inherent in the words of Paul Albera quoted by Fr Alfred Maravalli: ``The most beautiful monument to Don Bosco, most worthy of his great apostolic heart - is it not the Missionary who, with the Crucifix and the Gospel in his hand, goes to conquer new peoples to religion and civilisation?``

This understanding of Missionary Activity definitely needs a REVISION! Colonialist attitudes, racism, looting, exploiting and untold violence and killing went hand in hand, by greedy colonialists and in the name of the Catholic Church. Do we want to continue this? If a real shift has not taken place, can it happen now?

This takes us to the next question word: HOW? This is a practical word that could ground us, taking care of the complex WHY and the possibly misleading WHAT.

Vatican II, with Lumen Gentium and Perfectae Caritatis, invited Christians, and the religious in particular, to go back to the GOSPEL roots. The invitation has been repeated as ``Starting Afresh from Christ`` (2002). We were again offered a wonderful opportunity when the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic life presented the Church with the GUIDELINES: New Wine in new Wineskins - Consecrated life and its ongoing challenges since Vatican II (2017).

We chose to ignore it. Now Pope Francis keeps challenging us in different ways. Just to mention three documents: Evangelii Gaudium (2013), Laudato Si` (2015) and Fratelli Tutti (2020). Evangelii Gaudium N.15, speaks of 3 principal settings: the Ordinary Pastoral Ministry (1), the Baptised whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism (2) and Those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him (3). The para continues: ``Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy... It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ``by attraction.``

What if we apply this in all three settings? Pope Francis concludes the paragraph quoting Luke 5,7: ``There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.`` I have the impression that we put ourselves among the 99 and miss the fact that Jesus is calling each one of us  to repent.

Missionary Activity will be relevant today, when I recognise myself as needing to meet Christ in my life and to repent. Only then can I bring JOY, the Joy of the Gospel to the other 99! This answers also the question WHO: ``WHO is in need of Evangelisation?`` Until I have accepted and succeeded in this, humbly and sincerely, the answer to the question ``IS MISSIONARY ACTIVITY STILL RELEVANT TODAY?`` is NO, it is irrelevant! To be honest, the presumed answer has to change from YES to NO!

To continue on the HOW and WHO, let me quote Paul to the Ephesians, 4, 12-13: ``In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect human being, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.`` Evangelisation then would be to support the development of individual human beings to their growth, at different stages of their lives, into the fullness of humanity with the fullness of Christ himself. This is our true VOCATION. All other so-called vocations are meant to fill roles to keep religious organisations / congregations running. Unfortunately, often they take us away from realizing our genuine vocation as children of God.

Instead of evangelisation or missionary activity, we are caught up in a power struggle within. For example, there is the struggle between the so called progressives and the conservatives, those entrenched in power, in the Church or society. The reality is that our humanity is at stake, and the very purpose of Christ`s incarnation, life, death and resurrection are in jeopardy with these power struggles. Are we with Christ or against him? Are we for our fellow human beings or for any position of power, riches, control and so on. These are the real questions that we need to answer, before asking whether missionary activity is still relevant today.

A further question could be WHEN? Pope Francis has addressed this too. He invites us to the task of PREPARING THE FUTURE!  We could compare this as MISSIONARY ACTIVITY TODAY. The context is the world on the BRINK of COLLAPSING, the earth and its inhabitants are facing destruction and extinction because of the type of development, control systems, economy, technology and so on that has led to climate change, and now COVID 19. Pope Francis speaks of the CRY OF THE EARTH and THE CRY OF THE POOR. This is the setting for a NEW EVANGELISATION. The pope is emphatic in reminding us that he is NOT speaking of preparing FOR the future. Missionary Activity is to bring alive NOW what Christ showed and taught his disciples by the example he set. As my friends clarify, ``It is LIVING the FUTURE NOW``. It is living the GOSPEL NOW!

Let me also attempt an answer to the second question of Fr Alfred Maravilla: I prefer leave out the `Why`` and ask the question more directly, ``Is the missionary vocation a call within our common Salesian vocation?

I understand fully well that every Salesian, including Fr Alfred, is a person of the times. So he too has learned this escape route, that will help us to avoid confronting ourselves and our vocation. I would like to invite Fr Alfred and his team join in calling out the bluff. This so-called ``call within a call,`` for example, led Mother Theresa leave her congregation and reach out to the poorest. Her congregation did not support her initially. Others, to speak favourably of Mother, spoke of her mission as a call within a call, rather than have to face the more embarrassing questions people around would ask us, the Congregation or Mother Theresa herself. A member leaving a congregation is still considered a failure!

The same is true of those who want to stand up for JUSTICE and HUMAN RIGHTS in any congregation, or in the church, even today. They are ridiculed, discouraged, or not allowed to function in communion with the rest of the Salesian communities. In short, they are considered freaks and their ideas aberrations! Here too the bluff of a call within a call has been employed successfully. While not accepting the need for ALL to understand the need to work for JUSTICE and to promote a HUMAN (DIGNITY AND) RIGHTS BASED  APPROACH (HRBA or HDRBA), confreres speak highly of the work these few confreres do and brand their work as a call within a call.

Some go a step further and say that it is an ideal and not all can reach it. It is not practical. There is a truce and apparent peace. This is a time of testing the mettle of the so-called forward thinking group.  But the war carries on though the truce is on. Operation successful, but the patient is dead. The message is lost. The following of Christ is being relegated officially to a few who may dare, if they are still convinced and have the energy to go on in spite of the systemic opposition and discouragement. It would appear as the official abetment to the abandoning Christ and his call by the majority and those in roles of responsibility or in the service of authority.

Let me quote here part of a reply that I received from one of the 28th General Chapter members to a note that I addressed to them, on behalf of the Regional Salesian Social Forum, minutes before I was taken to the operation theatre for a brain surgery. I was quoting N. 22 of New Wine in new Wineskins: ``... the substitution of wineskins does not happen by automatism, but requires effort, skill and willingness to CHANGE. In order for this to happen, there must be generous willingness to renounce every form of PRIVILEGE.`` It continues: ``We can in no way linger in an attitude that knows more about preserving our ways and attitudes than performing an authentic renewal of them.`` It concludes: ``A revelatory indication of this impasse is the persistent centralisation of decision making power and the lack of turnover in the governments of communities and institutes.``

One reply I received was: ``Regarding article 22 of `New Wine in New Wineskins` it was considered at the Chapter. Among the few juridical matters that were completed was the new rule to prevent General Council members going beyond two terms. The Chapter`s freedom was exercised in some being voted out after one term, but not as a rule. In the debate on this matter, the question of accumulated experiences at the service of a group also merits consideration. While new wine should be in new wine skins, some good old wine will survive only in old wine skins... if not, as Jesus said, they will spoil both the wine and the skins... Not everything new needs to be better. ... On the question of perpetuating these, the document has a very valid point.``

I am grateful that I received a reply. The Rector Major, the Vicar, the Economer General and the Councillor for Formation were re-elected to the council (4 out of 13). And they accepted the election, but not my challenge. Incidentally, the Rector Major was appointed for a third continuous term as provincial, evident misinterpretation of the Constitutions and the Canon Law, and the trend continued on his being elected as the RM, the first time and now the second time (30 years on the ladder!). The Canon Law could be interpreted differently, if we try to keep to the spirit of following of Christ / evangelisation. Interestingly, at least 3 others more were given similar responsibilities such as provincials, after the chapter. I guess this fits in with the language of the document, N. 22: ``the lack of turn over.`` Now the proportion is 7 out of 13 confirming the lack of turnover! Are all these vocational and evangelising roles?

The Way Forward

Now that I have answered your two questions with other questions, I would like to invite you to join the Pope in PREPARING THE FUTURE, that is, LIVING THE GOSPEL NOW, and avoid falling into the trap that Jesus warns about in Luke 23, 15: ``Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.``

While all this discussion is going on, most of the church seems to be going inexorably in a direction different from that of Christ. The American situation shows the power struggle within the society, within the Church, and the Churches among themselves. I need not speak about the Roman Curia. That is all too evident. But what surprised me was the news about Vietnam where the bishops have decided to create ``missionary associations`` within each diocese in spite of persecution from the present government.

The opening words of Albert Nolan`s book Jesus before Christianity is very revealing: ``Many millions ... have venerated the name of Jesus, but few have understood him and fewer still have tried to put into practice what he wanted to see done. His words have been twisted and turned to mean everything, anything and nothing. His name has been used and abused to justify crimes, to frighten children and to inspire men and women to heroic foolishness. Jesus has been more frequently honoured and worshipped for what he did not mean than for what he did mean. The supreme irony is that some of the things he opposed most strongly in the world of his time were resurrected, preached and spread more widely throughout the world - in his name.`` Nolan was provincial in South Africa and was elected Master General of the Dominicans. He refused because there was no one willing to take his place.  

I am glad that I got this opportunity to address Fr Alfred Maravilla and others. Please pray that I too may rid myself of the leaven of the Pharisees and be filled with the Spirit of Christ and may have the MIND of Christ, and in turn have the courage and patience to invite and join others in PREPARING THE FUTURE and LIVING NOW the MESSIANIC WAY.
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