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Reflections on 'Ad Gentes'

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Mission was no longer paternalistic heroism reaching out to "save" people. Instead, the modern missionary moved forward in a spirit of humility, respect, and awareness that God was already present among all people and in their various cultures.

Frank
Mazzaglia

To mark the approaching 50th anniversary of the "Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church -- Ad Gentes" promulgated by Pope Paul VI on Dec. 7, 1965, four missionary communities within the Boston Archdiocese's Missionary Alliance met to reflect upon the decree's powerful impact upon the world. What follows is a compilation of thoughts from Sister Marilyn Gignac, SUSC and Sister Jane Newcomb, SUSC of the Holy Union Sisters, Sister Sesilia Teao, SMSM and Sister Palepa Ioane, SMSM of the Marist Missionary Sisters, Father Paul Frechette, SMSM of the Marist Fathers, and Father Joe Matteucig, SX and Father Rocco Puopolo, SX of the Xaverian Missionaries.

It was no accident that Giovanni Montini took the name Paul VI upon his election as pope in 1963. His priestly career, ranging from working as a chaplain with international students as a young priest, to relief work with political refugees during World War II, and eventually as a ranking Vatican diplomat, gave him a deep appreciation of St. Paul, the great missionary. Noting new seeds of faith planted throughout Asia and Africa that were in need of harvesting, "Ad Gentes" called upon the entire Church -- priests, nuns, and laity -- to become engaged in world evangelism. The Holy Father also challenged diocesan bishops to send priests to Latin America where there was a desperate need for clergy. In that moment of great opportunity, "Ad Gentes" called upon all Catholics to follow the loving example of Jesus, the Church's first missionary.

"Ad Gentes" revised popular thinking about missionary activity. Mission was no longer paternalistic heroism reaching out to "save" people. Instead, the modern missionary moved forward in a spirit of humility, respect, and awareness that God was already present among all people and in their various cultures. Therefore, the missionary's mere presence as a witness of Christian love became the essential aspect of mission. Following Christ's mandate to spread the Gospel message that we are all saved by a loving God, new churches, schools, and social agencies were formed.

Although not every individual is able to become an active missionary beyond the local parish, there are important ways to become engaged in evangelization. One is in regularly dedicated prayer for missionaries. The second is by supporting The Society for the Propagation of the Faith, or parish 'twinning' programs, or through donations to a missionary community.

Since the promulgation of "Ad Gentes," millions of people have found their way to Catholicism. Educated in mission schools, they have benefited from Catholic action programs. Now these educated and ambitious immigrants are here in our local Church eager for success and the opportunity to contribute to their new country.

Laypersons interested in devoting even a short period of time to missionary work should contact the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the vocation directors of any missionary community, or specialized organizations such as USCMA (The United States Catholic Missionary Association), FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), ACTS (Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service), or Lay Mission Helpers.

One way or another, "Ad Gentes" still calls upon each one of us.

Frank Mazzaglia is associated with the Missionary Alliance, which is comprised of religious missionary congregations of priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people in the Archdiocese of Boston whose members toil in the vineyards for Christ all over the world.

Frank Mazzaglia is associated with the Missionary Alliance, which is comprised of religious missionary congregations of priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people in the Archdiocese of Boston whose members toil in the vineyards for Christ all over the world.

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