Becoming missionary disciples in Malaysia

“Missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity… We need to move ‘from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly miss

Oct 20, 2016

“Missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity… We need to move ‘from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry (Evangeli Gaudium 15). I want to emphasise that what I am trying to express here has programmatic significance and important consequences…. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission’” (EG 25).

“By virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptised, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation…. The new evangelisation calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptised…. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather, that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (EG 120).

This presentation seeks to explore Pope Francis’ challenge to become authentic ‘missionary disciples’ in the context of Asia, our home continent. One could attempt to present an answer by noting several specific challenges facing our local Churches (secularisation, poverty, fundamentalism, injustices, etc.) and then exploring specific initiatives to address these urgent issues.”

I. The “Triple-Dialogue” Approach

The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has been the most influential body in the Asian Church since the Second Vatican Council. The theological, pastoral, and missiological concerns of FABC reflect a unique vision, one that is marked with “great breadth, hope, and courage.” The FABC has enunciated an “ecclesiology of the Asian Churches;” It is truly “Asia’s Continuing Vatican II.”

Surveying the vast amount of FABC literature and the invaluable insights it provides over the past four decades, one can assert that there is a fundamental pattern or paradigm of Church and mission at work. This paradigm can be described by noting that (1) the local Church is always the acting “subject” or “protagonist” in the entire process; (2) the “approach” of engagement is always dialogue, a mutual or reciprocal missionary dialogue; (3) the “dialogue partners” are Asia’s people, especially the poor, Asia’s myriad cultures, and Asia’s venerable religious traditions. This is the famed FABC “triple dialogue,” which has served the Churches in Asia so well.

This “triple dialogue” paradigm, formulated programmatically in the First FABC Plenary Assembly in 1974 and verified in subsequent assemblies (and more importantly in pastoral-missionary praxis), revolves around three key poles: local Church, dialogue, and Asian peoples with their realities.

This operative paradigm of Church and mission is the interpretive key to understanding and appreciating the evangelisation process in Asia today. This is how the Church “lives and breathes” in Asia. Here, one finds the Holy Spirit at work. This is an authentic reception and continuation of the Second Vatican Council in Asia. It is a palpable presence of God’s action in and through the Asian Churches and their missionary endeavours. Surely Pope Francis would be affirmative of this vision of a genuine, missionary local Church! Much has been achieved — with God’s grace. Much more remains to be done to further enhance the Church’s evangelising mission in Asia — and beyond.

The centrality of local Church is in the entire missionary project of today. This is vigorously asserted within an Asian ecclesiology promoted by the FABC. Some citations capture this thought: “The renewal of our sense of mission will mean … that the acting subject of mission is the local Church living and acting in communion with the universal Church…. In fact, it is by responding to and serving the needs of the peoples of Asia that the different Christian communities become truly local Churches…. This local Church, which is the acting subject of mission, is the people of God in a given milieu, the whole Christian community — laity, religious and clergy…. Their time has come for Asia” (FABC V [1990]: 3.3.1-2).

II. Process of ‘Integral Evangelisation’

A second paradigm which seeks to capture the evangelising mission of each local Church: the paradigm of Integral Evangelisation. Again, one finds many connections and parallels with Pope Francis’ vision of the Church as a “community of missionary disciples” (EG 40, 119- 120, 173).

The most quoted specific source in Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium is Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN). Pope Francis closely adheres to the missionary vision of Paul VI. In 2013, Francis called EN “a very full text that has lost nothing of its timeliness” (June 13). As Francis described evangelisation, he asserted that EN was “that basic point of reference which remains relevant” (July 27).

The Pope went even so far (June 22) as to describe EN as “to my mind, the greatest pastoral document that has ever been written to this day.” Undoubtedly, EN is the fertile soil from which Francis drew much as he authoured his Evangelii Gaudium (as well as using other material from Pope Paul VI such as Gaudete in Domino).

Indeed, Pope Paul VI has spoken eloquently on the topic of evangelisation. For him, this task, which is at the heart of what it means to be Church today, demands “bringing the Good News into all strata of humanity” (EN 18); “… evangelising all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church…. Evangelising is, in fact, the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelise” (EN 14).

The vision of Paul VI reflects the insightful statement of the mission document of Vatican II: “the pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature” (Ad Gentes 2).

In a word, the one evangelising mission of the Church is comprised of several component elements and authentic forms.

This integral or holistic vision has served the Church well over the past decades.

This evangelising mission of the Church has been formulated in Malaysia under the core need and related needs of the 1976 Aggiornamento and PMPC 1-III. They are: BEC as the core option with Unity, Formation, Integral Human Development, Interreligious Dialogue, Youth, Family and Social Communications as the pastoral priorities.

Today the Church sees that the “principal elements” of mission and evangelisation are:
--Witness of Life
– Service of Humanity;
– Interreligious Dialogue;
– Explicit Gospel Proclamation; and
--Prayer, Liturgy and Sacraments.

Bec foundational experience for integral evangelisation

1. Unity : Prayer, liturgy & sacraments
No one can effectively be engaged in the Church’s mission without a strong faith and prayer-life. Holiness is an irreplaceable condition for evangelisers. The “God-experience” achieved in prayer and contemplation, in sacramental and liturgical life, will illumine and transform all other dimensions of evangelisation (cf. EN 23, 43-44, 47; RM 46-49, 87-92; EG 47, 173, 259-288).

2. Social communications

3. Interreligious Dialogue
Cooperating with the followers of the great religious traditions. Interreligious dialogue takes many forms: there are the dialogues of daily life, deeds of service, religious experts, and faith experience, etc.

4. Youth: witness of life

daily activities, living together in harmony, living as individuals of integrity, duties in the community — all these are to be a basic “faith-witness” that demonstrate how christian living is shaped by christian faith and values.

5. Integral Human Development : Service of humanity
A genuine service of humanity. This means serving the most unfortunate, witnessing to justice, defending the integrity of creation. This dimension of evangelisation includes all areas of social concern, ranging from peace-building, education and health services, to promoting family life and good government.

6. Frormation: Explicit Proclamation
Includes preaching, catechesis on Christian life, teaching the content of the faith; in a word, this means “telling the Jesus story.” When the Holy Spirit opens the door and when the time is opportune, Christians do tell the Jesus story, giving explicit witness and testimony to the faith.

Obviously, these five dimensions of an integral understanding of evangelisation complement and reinforce each other. In speaking of the complexity of the Church’s evangelising action, Paul VI gave a timely admonition:

“Any partial and fragmentary definition which attempts to render the reality of evangelisation in all its richness, complexity and dynamism does so only at the risk of impoverishing it and, even, of distorting it.” The Pope continued: “It is impossible to grasp the concept of evangelisation unless one tries to keep in view all its essential elements” (EN 17).

Thus, an older concept of the Church’s mission has been set aside. No longer are the elements of social justice, interfaith dialogue, peacebuilding, education and health care, life-witness, etc. simply “preparatory” to evangelisation (praeparatio evangelica); all five “principal elements” (not only the final two aspects) are constitutive of an integral understanding. Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis have expanded the horizons of evangelisation; the more restrictive view, which held that only explicit Gospel proclamation and sacramental life constituted mission, has been superseded. -- By Prof Fr James H. Kroeger, MM,

Prof Fr James H. Kroeger, MM’s presentation on What does it mean to be Church in Asia/Malaysia for the next ten years in the direction Pope Francis is leading us?”

He holds licentiate and doctorate degrees in missiology from the Gregorian University in Rome; he has served in missions in Asia (Philippines and Bangladesh) since 1970, working in parishes and serving mostly in the education-formation apostolate of seminarians, catechists, and lay leaders. Currently, he teaches Christology, Ecclesiology, Missiology, and “Asian Theology” at Loyola School of Theology, East Asian Pastoral Institute, and Mother of Life Catechetical Centre in Metro, Manila. He has written extensively on Asian (FABC) and Philippine theology, mission, interfaith dialogue, and on the Second Vatican Council


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