“… mission is beyond geography. Every person that God places beside me in this present moment of my life is my mission space, and I have to be there for that person. That’s the revolution that should be understood at this time.” – Father Andrew Recepcion, Filipino Missiologist
MARIKINA CITY, Philippines – Father Andrew Recepcion president of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Catholic Missiologists and director of Caceres Mission Office in the Archdiocese of Caceres in Camarines Sur province notes much has to be done for Filipinos to effectively serve the mission of evangelization in Asia. He spoke about this with Catholic in Asia in the sidelines of the Grand Mission Festival at Marikina Sports Complex last April 18-20, while assessing the impact of the activity co-organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) commission on Mission , the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) and other groups. Recepcion, author of the book God’s Global Household: A Theology of Mission in the Context of Globalization holds a doctorate in Missiology from Gregorian University in Rome. While teaching in various schools of theology in the Philippines, he researches on globalization and mission, local rituals and mission history. Following are excerpts of our chat at the festival:
N.J. Viehland: What is the basic definition of mission?
Fr. Andrew Recepcion: Mission is both a journey of faith and a sharing of faith. Journey of faith because it involves a personal encounter with the Lord and you cannot give what you do not have. Sharing of faith because we cannot keep that Spirit of God to ourselves. We have to share it with others.
What are particular challenges to the Church in the Philippines?
The constant challenge to the Philippines Church is that it is always an island of faith. For many many years, we have been “the only Catholic country in Asia,” though now there is East Timor, but there’s still much for us to do.
It’s very important that Catholic Christians in the Philippines will go beyond the comfort zones of family tradition and commit deeply to proclaiming Jesus Christ in different situations.
We also have to balance mission “ad gentes” (to the nations) or mission “going to places that need explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ,” with mission as a way of life. And only when mission becomes a way of life among Filipinos can they make a difference in evangelization in Asia today.
Talks and sessions of the Grand Mission Festival sought to inculcate that awareness that mission is a way of life, and that every Christian wherever we are, can do evangelization and the Church’s missionary work. We don’t have to go right away to places outside the Philippines to do mission, but we start with our families, with our work environment, schools and so on, and then we begin to create a mission culture, so to speak, and that could facilitate mission ad gentes.
So many times, we have the impression that those who volunteer or do full-time mission work are extraordinary. In reality, it should be ordinary for us Christians to do mission because as John Paull II reiterated in Redemptoris Missio, mission is an instrument of faith and we will lose that faith if we don’t share it. But, it should not be understood as sharing it only to those outside our territory. There’s a tendency even among priests to reduce mission to going to other nations.
The need for that should not be denied, but mission is beyond geography. Every person that God places beside me in this present moment of my life is my mission space and you have to be there for that person. That’s the revolution that should be understood at this time.
What are the implications for orientation and training for mission?
Preparation for mission is “here” in the manner that we live out our faith, in the manner we share it with our family, with people who are close to us. Only when we are able to mature in this kind of missioning that we can eventually be committed to mission ad gentes.
From experience I see it has to be understood by priests that mission is not added work. For many priests, their concept of mission is that it is an activity that has to be done, when in fact mission should be the soul of pastoral work. Without the orientation to mission, pastoral work is reduced to empty administration work and other activities. If we do not do mission, we are not missionaries of Christ carrying out our pastoral work, but end up instead as social workers, organizers, event managers, CEO.
How important is it to include formation for mission in the seminary program?
Mission formation must be allowed to mature in one’s life. It’s important for seminarians to understand that they are becoming priests not just to do pastoral work, but to participate in the mission of the Church. Your pastoral and other work is part of the whole mission enterprise of the Church. For this mission, seminarians must nurture an attitude of availability for mission and joy of service. Their formation is programmed so that mission is intuitive. They are given exposure to mission situations in the diocese to understand that being in the parish is not merely celebrating the rituals and performing sacraments, but that all these and other activities are a constant life-giving witness to the faith.
What about overseas missions?
Aside from seminarians’ mission formation program, we also have had the Caceres Mission Aid Program since 1997. We have 16 priests right now who serve 3-year contracts with mission dioceses. Almost 50 of our 280 priests have gone to serve overseas.
What did the Grand Mission Festival achieve?
Mission is not result-oriented because the proclamation of the Gospel is always open-ended. The fruits are given not by any human effort but by the Holy Spirit. I think the fruit of the Grand Mission Festival, from the human point of view, was its succes with the organization, participation, also with the good general program.
From the point of view of God’s work, the fruits will have to be reaped in the future through the success of lay missionaries that were sent off to their missions. We hope that they will be able to inspire others and witness to Jesus, and that more missionaries will be sent from the Philippines.
Was there enough discussion of the role of dialogue in the mission of the Church?
Grand Mission Festival focused on PMS and that covers mission more as the work of the Church. Maybe at another time it would be opportune to talk about dialogue. But in the Philippines dialogue is always part of our understanding of mission because of growing religious and cultural pluralism in the country.
How do you respond to claims that some bishops, priests and Religious are not open to dialogue?
Even today, there are priests and bishops who do not want to talk about dialogue because of our training to fight for our faith as much as possible and as far as we can prevent it, our faith should not be contaminated by other religions. We cannot proselytize and aggressively convert Muslims. In a pluralistic situation, the challenge to Filipino Christians is to know more our faith and identity because if not we could be converted.
How do you see the conversion of Catholics to Born Again and other groups?
As far as I know, Born Again groups are very active, even in remote areas. For many people who have been in the margins of Church life – who we call the “un-churched” – they feel liberated by the manner in which Born Again Christians create a Pentecostal atmosphere in presenting the faith. For many it’s like liberation from a very traditional way of living faith and of liturgy. For example, they could spontaneously praise God. It’s very important that Catholic Christians are also able to live their faith without having to join Born Again Christians. If they only knew that there’s so much of the movement of the Spirit in our lives. If we only put the Gospel into practice, our faith can be as alive. Catechesis and basic education are important and it’s very important the very basics of our faith are clearly and deeply understood, including the basic question: Why do we believe in God?