Itinerancy as a Characteristic of the Mission

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by: Israel Arévalo Muñoz, CM

[This article was first published in Vincentiana volume 59, #3 (July-September 2015), p. 313-336]


They set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere (Luke 9:6)


Introduction

The Apostolic Exhortation, Evngelii Gaudium, written by Pope Francis, is a document that addresses the issue of the proclamation of the gospel in the midst of today’s world. That document once again places the itinerant mission of the Church before us: I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come (Evangelii Gaudium, #1). It is clear that the Church’s mission is an itinerant mission and that evangelization is a task for itinerant men and women and indeed, is determined by those itinerant individuals. The word mission implies mobility because it actualizes Jesus’ command when he sent forth the disciples on their mission: Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). The itinerant missionary gives witness to a Church that is in movement, a Church that is focused on Christ, a Church that makes people question themselves, a Church that is at the service of the Kingdom.

Mobility is a characteristic of the People of God; it is a lifestyle that was proper to Jesus and his disciples; it is also the manner in which Vincent de Paul viewed and conducted the various popular missions that he preached. Mobility is a demand of the present post-modern culture and, as such, implies “a path”, a journey with well-defined stages and concrete instructions, attitudes, and content. This idea is made very clear in the above referenced words of Pope Francis: I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked with joy (Evangelii Gaudium, #1). Such mobility is a characteristic of joyful people, of men and women who are committed to Jesus’ cause and who are not wedded to any one specific methodology or place or ministry or group of people or role. Rather they are individuals whose hearts and lives are filled with joy because they have encountered Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew (Evangelii Gaudium, #1). Every step of the itinerant missionary is a conquest of freedom and creates a possibility for the rebirth of joy in the individual missionary and in the members of the community who are accompanied by that missionary. The itinerant journey of the missionary reveals the gospel’s openness to different cultures and also implies a commitment to transform the world from the perspective of the dynamic of the Good News. This journey is an interior strength that is communicated to others when the individuals involved understand that the action that they are engaged in and the plan they have accepted is actually an inspiration of the Spirit and is in accord with the divine will.

In the second part of Francis’ program we see that the objective is to point out new paths for the Church’s journey in the years to come (Evangelii Gaudium, #1). Itinerant missionaries open paths, explore new realities and/or deepen their understanding of realities that they have already experienced … and they do this in order formulate new proposals. Indeed, one’s forward movement cannot be halted, nor can one’s search or commitment cease. The Pope understands the reality of those missionary trips that can last for days as individuals visit far distant towns and villages … he is familiar with that reality as a result of his encounters with itinerant missionaries from various religious orders and/or from societies of apostolic life who are constantly reflecting on their mission in light of the insights of their Founders and of the Second Vatican Council … missionaries who reflect on their mission in light of new situations and in light of the urgency of the demands of their ministry so that they might remain faithful to their charism and to the demands of present time. The pastoral lines of Aparecida and the Pope are symbolized by the use of the word peripheries and are addressed to various interested groups: the poor, those who are suffering, immigrants, and those who are alienated. Thus we are exhorted to move out in order to encounter all people: believers and non-believers, men and women living in the city, those living on the peripheries and those living in the rural areas. The Pope invites us to imagine new paths so that the Church might be a community that is attractive to others because of its love and might continually minister with the convictions expressed in Aparecida: communion in love, a missionary pastoral approach, living witness, urgent pastoral conversion, moving out to encounter those living on the peripheries, the maternal dimension of the Church, the People of God as the common house but especially the house for those who are poor. Aparecida calls us to a pastoral conversion so that we might engage in a missionary encounter with all people [1]. We also know that for Vincent de Paul, living as an itinerant missionary meant placing one’s whole life at the service of God and doing so for the purpose of evangelizing the poor [2].


The importance of mobility

The mobility of the People of God

Carlos Mesters and his biblical studies team, in a booklet entitled The Formation of the People of God, affirms that the Bible ought to be read “with the head”, “with the heart”, and “with the feet”. The feet are important! The Bible came into existence as the result of a journey. Only when we begin to travel along the road can we begin to understand the totality of the message that the Bible communicates to us. The journey of the people of God could be described in the following manner: as a result of their faith in God the people, who were oppressed by the Egyptians, became involved in a process of liberation which led them to create a human community in which people could live as equals … thus, they fulfilled the plan of God, the will of God [3].

In order to show that mobility was characteristic of the chosen people, the Pentateuch, in addition to speaking to us about God, also reveals to us some of the essential characteristics of the people who were the beloved of God, characteristics that enabled them to fulfill God’s saving plan. The events that are narrated have a unity and are centered on a specific geographical area where we find people who traveled from Syria in the North to Egypt in the southeast; who traveled from the lands of Mesopotamia to the Mediterean and from the east to the Arabian Desert.

Israel is basically “a pilgrim people”. Their God is the God of their nomadic ancestors … a God who is not limited by time or place but rather a God who, throughout the ages, accompanies the people wherever they may be. Therefore, it is not strange that the concept of “the people of God” or “my people” is frequently referred to in the more ancient tradition of the Exodus (Exodus 3:7, 10; 8:16-19; 9:1, 13; 10:3). The God of Israel is “the God of the exodus” and therefore, the people of God is a people of the exodus, “a people who are united because they are followers of the one God”. This characteristic of the people of God is rooted in their nomadic (or semi-nomadic) origin. The biblical account of the Exodus offers us a paradigm with regard to the various problems that the people had to confront as they journeyed toward the Promised Land. To travel through the desert meant that the people confronted hunger and thirst, confronted their enemies, confronted all the realities that could provoke a negative reaction and/or doubts of faith. Such a journey also supposes the possibility of meeting some friends. Therefore, in light of all of this it was logical that different tasks and responsibilities would be distributed among the people [4]. This schema, which we find in the unfolding of the events surrounding the exodus, helps us to understand the importance of the itinerant situation of Israel as they were established as the people of God.

From a theological perspective the journey through the desert highlights the reality of a people on a journey, a people whose life/death, salvation/condemnation is accomplished while traveling along the road. In the desert, Israel experienced what it means to walk with God (Micah 6:8). God (I am who am) accompanied and led the people without curtailing their freedom or depriving them of the opportunity “to search”. Over and over, without abdicating their responsibility and therefore, always with the risk of being mistaken, Israel had to make a choice. Repeated mistakes meant that one generation of this people had to carve out their burial place in the desert … only a new generation would enter into the Promised Land [5].

Jesus, the itinerant prophet

To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent (Luke 4:43). Various texts of Saint Luke’s gospel present Jesus moving about as an itinerant missionary [6]. José Antonio Pagola presents Jesus as an itinerant prophet who did not move back into his house in Nazareth, but went on to the region of Lake Galilee and took up residence in Capernaum. This was a strategic setting for his activity as an itinerant prophet. The people of Capernaum lived modestly. Many were peasants who lived from their farm produce and nearby vineyards, but the majority were engaged in fishing. Jesus apparently was able to identify immediately with these families. They let him use their boats to go across the lake and to preach to the crowds gathered on the shore. He wanted to spread the news of God’s reign everywhere. We know that he went from town to town along the lakeshore: Capernaum, Magdala, Chorazin or Bethsaida. He visited the town of Lower Galilee: Nazareth, Cana, Nain. He went to other places around Galilee: Tyre and Sidon, Caesarea Philippi and the Decapolis. He stopped in the surrounding villages or on the outskirts of the city. There he met the most marginalized people, the travelers and vagabonds who slept outside the walls. His mission was to visit the villages and to do this in the company of a small group of followers. When he came to a town, Jesus went looking for the residents. He walked the streets … he would stop at a house, wishing peace to the mothers and children on the patio. He joined the people in the synagogue or wherever the people met. There they prayed, sang psalms, debated the town’s problems, or shared information about recent local events. Jesus took advantage of those opportunities to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. During his travels, if he had to spend the night outside his house, he looked for people willing to give him food and a simple place to sleep [7].

According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus is presented as one who is continually moving from one place to another, traveling through the whole region of Galilee [8]. This apparently was not a casual approach, but a well thought-out strategy. The people no longer had to go out to the desert to preare for God’s imminent judgment. Jesus himself was walking though the villages, inviting everyone to “enter” the reign of God that was already irrupting in their lives. Their own land had become the place to accept salvation and this was made clear in the many signs that invited the people to enjoy the fullness of life as sons and daughters of God. In those Galilean villages lived the poorest and most marginalized people, dispossessed of their right to enjoy the land God had given them; there more than anywhere else, Jesus found the sick and the suffering of Israel, abused by the power; there is where Israel felt the harshest effects of oppression. The reign of God could only be proclaimed as the result of a close, direct contact with the people who most needed breathing space and liberation .[9]

Take nothing for the journey, neither walking, stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there … Then they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere (Luke 9:3-4, 6). The itinerant mission of Jesus among the poor men and women of Galilee is a living symbol of his freedom and of his faith in the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not sustain his life with a salary that he received for his work … he did not have a house or land; indeed, he had abandoned the security of the system so that he could enter into the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ itinerant mission on behalf of the poor makes it clear that the Kingdom of God does not have one specific power center but rather is made visible in those places where good things are done for the poor.

Anselm Grün defines Jesus as God’s pilgrim. For Jesus the road to Jerusalem is the path that leads to death as well as the path that leads to the resurrection. Luke presents that path as an example of the road that we must travel and therefore, our task is to follow Jesus, the One who is the Way and who will lead us to true life. Jesus has come down from heaven in order to walk with men and women and to be seen as a guest who lives in their midst. In the person of Jesus, God himself becomes present to humankind in order that people might be able to see themselves from the perspective of God’s plan.

Jesus lived in the midst of people and shared with them “his food”. During the meals that he shared with people he taught those who were gathered around the table and revealed God’s special concern for sinners (Luke 5:27-32; 15:1-2). After the resurrection, Jesus once again appeared to his disciples while they were eating; Jesus was on a journey and he accompanied the disciples and shared a meal with them (Luke 24:30-35). The Risen Lord also walks with us; at times he is unrecognized, but when we share our bread with others he becomes present in our midst.

From the most ancient of times people viewed their life as a journey. In the various spiritual traditions we see that distinct paths will lead people to God. Men and women, as human beings, are always on a journey. They cannot cease to travel and, in fact, they are transformed by traveling along the road. Jesus viewed his life as an on-going journey: I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day (Luke 13:33). Therefore, the Christian life is also a journey and should be viewed from the perspective of “following … following Jesus”. Yes, our task is to follow Jesus and this means that we will never have some particular place that we can call our own (Luke 9:57-62). The path that the disciples must travel along implies that they are free from every human bond and from all human projects and plans and that they view God as “their true home”. This implies that they know how to revitalize their journey in order to accept the challenges of the cross that they encounter on a daily basis (Luke 14:27). In this way life leads us to God and the cross becomes the key to life [10].

The Vincentian mission, an itinerant mission

God is the one who calls us and who, from all eternity, has destined us to be Missioners, since He didn't bring us to birth either one hundred years earlier or later but precisely at the time of the institution of this Company . For Vincent de Paul the popular missions were the most important ministry of the Congregation … the inescapable ministry … everything else was complementary. That reality was revealed to Vincent in 1617 and occurred when he preached a sermon in Folleville … this was viewed as an inspiration of the Spirit. Thus the popular missions and the Confraternities of Charity were begun. That same event (the sermon in Folleville) would also lead to the establishment of an institution that would be called the Congregation of the Mission. Certainly all the Missionaries at that time gave popular missions … they had entered the Congregation for that purpose. It is with admiration that one reads the list of towns and villages where those early missionaries preached. Later, the missions ad gentes captured the imagination of the Missionaries as the Propagation of the Faith presented a proposal in which the Congregation was entrusted with certain territories where the Church had not yet been established [12].

Vincent did not begin with some theory about the mission, rather as he reflected on the experiences of his life he discovered his calling: I belong neither here nor there, but wherever God wants me to be (CCD:IX:10). Thus the first and primary ministry that Vincent engaged in and that he wanted the whole Congregation to be engaged in was that of the popular missions (CCD:XI:93). Therefore we should undertake the work of the missions according to circumstances of time and place, searching for all possible means to give this work new vitality, both to renew and to build up a true Christian Community and to awaken faith in the hearts of unbelievers (Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission, #14). The Constitutions point out four itinerant paths that the missionaries should follow: adapt the missions to circumstances of time and place, give that ministry new vitality, build up a true Christian community and awaken faith in the hearts of unbelievers [13].

We are an itinerant people as we respond to the various historical, ecclesial, cultural and other circumstances that encompass the people to whom we attempt to proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ. Maintaining our missionary identity within the context of the present culture and accepting the challenges that the Church places before us demands an itinerant attitude, an attitude of “going forth” (Evangelii Gaudium, #24). We, as followers of Saint Vincent de Paul, must make every effort to place ourselves in “the here and now”. With some frequency we hear or we read in print form the following words: have our Provinces lost that missionary and itinerant thrust that characterized Vincent de Paul and the first missionaries? We, then, understand that it is those men and women who are poor who help us to understand the ways in which God responds to the cries of the poor in the present situation. Clothed in the spirit of the Jesus Christ and attentive to the cries of the poor will make it easier to recover and deepen our passion for the poor and for their evangelization. Missionaries must walk along the path that enables them to make God known to poor persons; to announce Jesus Christ to them; to tell them that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and that it’s for persons who are poor (CCD:XII:71). If we can speak about the mission it is because God continues to accompany us and because we continue to be concerned about continuing Jesus’ mission. God continues to be a God of life and in the person of Jesus Christ accompanies us every day of our life, especially during the most complex moments of our history.


Implications

Cultural and pastoral context for itinerant missionaries

Globalization of the technical-scientific society, religious pluralism and the diverse cultural and ecclesial situations makes us actors in the midst of new and complex phenomenon that demand renewed theological and pastoral approaches. The new advances in the area of the social media have connected the world on the level of information, the economy, the markets and culture … and has done this through the globalization of ideas, of products, of financial currents. This reality of globalization, together with urbanization, has made the world “a global village”. These phenomenon have created a new paradigm with regard to our understanding and our interpretation of the world and they have created a new way of perceiving reality, a new way of assessing situations and a new way of acting … all of which leads to the creation of a new culture [14]. In light of this new culture it becomes urgent to design an itinerant plan in which Jesus Christ can be proclaimed in the midst of this new cultural context. Pope Francis states: The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades (Evangelii Gaudium, #2).

Today, theology and the Church’s magisterium are challenged to respond adequately to many people’s thirst for God, lest they try to satisfy it with alienating solutions or with a disembodied Jesus who demands nothing of us with regard to others. Unless these people find in the Church a spirituality which can offer healing and liberation, and fill them with life and peace, while at the same time summoning them to fraternal communion and missionary fruitfulness, they will end up by being taken in by solutions which neither make life truly human nor give glory to God (Evangelii Gaudium, #89).

The credibility of the Church’s spirituality and the relevance of her proposals with regard to the relationship between men and women and God and the cosmos and their neighbors depends on the quality and the authenticity of her preferential option on behalf of the poor. This option has been given to us by Jesus Christ who was born and lived and evangelized in the midst of poverty and who lived in solidarity with those who were poor.

It is time that the preferential option on behalf of the poor, purified and matured and referenced in Pontifical preaching, not only hold out the promise of being a fruitful means that enables people to ground their life on a sound spirituality, that enables people to live an authentic life in the Spirit and that enables people to respond to the present challenges of globalization, of the various ecology movements and of the ethnic minority groups … but this preferential option on behalf of the poor should also help theologians and pastors, philosophers and historians, sociologists and anthropologists, scientist and biologists and physicists, committed men and women, business men and women, Catholics and non-Catholics … should help all of these people to live out their commitment on behalf of their neighbor and the world through participation in liberation movements that confront the situations of inhuman poverty and exploitation, that make people aware of such situations and that promote the integral liberation of those who find themselves in situations in which they must overcome tremendous obstacles in order to live life to the fullest. Jesus Christ, the Savior, is the person who frees men and women from sin, from that which is the root of all injustice and oppression so that they can live in communion with all people. Therefore, our itinerant process of evangelization should be focused on the person of Jesus Christ and should enable every man and woman to live as a temple of God. Then, as we transform the world and as we encounter one another, we come to understand that we also encounter the person of Jesus Christ. The on-going movement and inspiration of the Spirit challenges us to find new expressions for our spirituality and to apply those discoveries to the themes that have been synthesized by theologians.

In the Apostolic Exhortation, the Pope describes those realities that are opposed to authentic Christian living: This insidious worldliness is evident in a number of attitudes which appear opposed, yet all have the same pretense of “taking over the space of the Church”. In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few. In others, this spiritual worldliness lurks behind a fascination with social and political gain, or pride in their ability to manage practical affairs, or an obsession with programs of self-help and self-realization. It can also translate into a concern to be seen, into a social life full of appearances, meetings, dinners and receptions. It can also lead to a business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations whose principal beneficiary is not God’s people but the Church as an institution. The mark of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, is not present; closed and elite groups are formed, and no effort is made to go forth and seek out those who are distant or the immense multitudes who thirst for Christ. Evangelical fervor is replaced by the empty pleasure of complacency and self-indulgence (Evangelii Gaudium, #95).

The Pope continues his reflection and utilizes the same style and vividness. In the paragraphs that follow the above referenced text he speaks in an insistent manner that is both unsettling and enlightening while presenting us with a synthesis. We cite here the following two examples: God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings … Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, #97). Pope Francis not only presents his theological-pastoral reflections, but gives witness to his words through his ministry in which mercy is seen as both a common thread and a point of reference: the salvation which God offers us is the work of mercy (Evangelii Gaudium, #112).

Thus, Pope Francis states that as a result of his experience as a pastor and with his Latin American heart, he is able to open the door in a new manner and thus able to formulate theology and the magisterium (from the perspective of the Petrine ministry) in a way that provides us with explanations or warnings that are more easily understood and that encourage us to read events from the perspective of everyday life .

Christ, the center of Christian life and the center of the Church

Authentic believers recognize and accept in their life, their thoughts, theirs words and their activities the centrality of Jesus Christ. They know that Christ is the center of creation, the center of the history of humankind and also the center of the history of every person. When Jesus is the center of the life of people, including those dark moments of their life, then all the joys and hopes, the grief and the anguish of men and women can be interpreted by the fact that Jesus is in the midst of all of these different situations.

This centrality is directly related to Jesus’ mission. To approach the itinerant proposal of Jesus is to realize that we are in the presence of an extraordinary person who transformed the values of the old world, the world of the Jews and the Gentiles. The historical Jesus presents a new paradigm with regard to life and the process of thinking … a paradigm which was later given a unity by the Risen Christ and in the theology of Saint Paul. Thus, the establishment of the Kingdom of God implies the disappearance of the old world and the birth of a new world … and this, in turn, implies a new paradigm with regard to the process of thinking .

Jesus’ contribution represents a transformation of values: a new vision of God and of the human person, freed from submission to nature and cosmic rites; freed from submission to social-political powers; freed from the myths surrounding the sacredness of political power and of certain sacred spaces. This new vision involves the unsettling affirmation with regard to the privileged position of those who are poor and marginalized … a position that places them over the rich and the powerful. In light of those statements I want to highlight certain revolutions that were inspired and sparked by Jesus of Nazareth and the Risen Christ: revolutions in the religious, anthropological, cosmic, social, political and ethical areas. In the midst of those situation we will discover the itinerant missionary activity of the Church. In the following sections I will develop the content of each “revolution” and hope that this will aid in deepening our understanding of the itinerant character of our mission as well as provide us with a means to analyze, interpret and carry out the proposal of the Pope with regard to “the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach” (Evangelii Gaudium, #17).

The religious revolution

The shift in paradigm, from dependence on the cosmos to dependence on history, was not achieved in a brief period of time. The prophets struggled to free Israel from idolatry and from their dependence on the cosmos. Both realities are related to one another since idolatry consists of worshipping the powers and the various phenomenon of nature. The Torah was an expression of that dependence on the cosmos. Jesus, however, moved beyond the law because he changed the relationship between men and women and God, modifying that relationship through his assent to the law and grounding that relationship on agape. The struggle between the Pharisees and Jesus was the protest of the religion of law against the religion of love. The Christian paradigm represents a religious revolution because it proposes a new way of living: living in Christ through faith. Christianity does not seek a holy union with the cosmos, but rather a union in the love of agape. As a result of faith, Christians are able to live in a new way, neither dependent on the cosmos nor on the law, but rather dependent on the Lord of Glory. Christians are no longer dependent on the power of God. Christian salvation is a personalist event and originates in an historical, salvific event. Redemption is also an historical event as is the resurrection.

At this time Pope Francis challenges us to become itinerant missionaries and that challenge implies a true religious revolution: In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few”. Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful” and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free”. This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone (Evangelii Gaudium, #43).

The anthropological revolution

Christianity provides us with a new paradigm with regard to the human person … it has freed society from a cosmic paradigm and formulated a series of ideals that are intended to create a better future for humankind: In our time humanity is experiencing a turning point in its history. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation. The joy of living frequently fades. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power … Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption (Evangelii Gaudium, #52-55). Today Jesus of Nazareth would have to remind us that money and knowledge and technology are made for the human person and not the opposite.

The cosmic revolution

The cosmos is for the human person and not the opposite; men and women are subject to God and not to the cosmos … indeed, the cosmos is subject to the human person. This idea is discussed by Pope Francis in one of the four principles that he proposes in the section entitled: the common good and peace in society … the principle that he refer to is time is greater than space. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity. Sometimes I wonder if there are people in today’s world who are really concerned about generating processes of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fullness. History will perhaps judge the latter with the criterion set forth by Romano Guardini: “The only measure for properly evaluating an age is to ask to what extent it fosters the development and attainment of a full and authentically meaningful human existence, in accordance with the peculiar character and the capacities of that age”. This criterion also applies to evangelization, which calls for attention to the bigger picture, openness to suitable processes and concern for the long run. The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warned his disciples that there were things they could not yet understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (Evangelii Gaudium, #221-225).

The social revolution

The gospels point out Jesus’ freedom as he related to people from every social class. He established relationships with those who were marginalized by the Jews. He pointed toward children and held them up as models of openness to God; he rejected the religious discrimination of women and welcomed them into his group. He allowed the lepers to approach him and to touch him and he used his healing power in order to reintegrate them into society. He spoke to the peasants, men and women who were despised by the Pharisees; he ate with prostitutes and the outcasts of society. All of this indicates an option for social and religious tolerance: It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven.

We know that God wants his children to be happy in this world too, even though they are called to fulfillment in eternity, for he has created all things “for our enjoyment”, the enjoyment of everyone. It follows that Christian conversion demands reviewing especially those areas and aspects of life “related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good”. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters.

If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it unites “its own commitment to that made in the social field by other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, whether at the level of doctrinal reflection or at the practical level” (Evangelii Gaudium, #182-183).

The political revolution

In a previous era people were subject to the cosmos as a result of the laws, traditions and customs of the societal group to which they belonged and also as a result of the political organization of that specific era. Political authority, however, cannot pretend to know those realities that belong to God alone. Jesus revolutionized the social order and the State when he said: Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:21). Thus, the Christian affirmation, we must obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29), has dethroned the State: I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world! Poli¬tics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. We need to be convinced that charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans? I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society (Evangelii Gaudium, #205).

The ethical revolution

Christianity leads people from an ethical position based on the cosmos to a position that is grounded on human relationships: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength … You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). The new Christian ethic implies a movement toward an ethic that values the poor over the rich (as seen in the Beatitudes). In the words of Nietzsche: The gospel is the news that a gateway to happiness stands open to the poor and lowly and that a war is being waged against the noble and powerful … Christianity grows up among outcasts and the condemned, among lepers of all kinds, “sinners,” “publicans,” prostitutes, the most stupid folk…[17]

As Christianity presented a new idea with regard to God and the human person when it utilized the image of the Crucified, it also created a new ethic based on love and the preferential option in favor of the most vulnerable members of society. Thus, the Crucified is the revelation of that which men and women do not want to be and yet are. The image of the human person in the Crucified signifies the elimination of “the superman” and all the illusions that surround such an image. Pope Francis writes: This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to em¬brace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them. Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programs of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves”. This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: “The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely”. The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value”, and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will 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 the preferential option for the poor, “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”.

Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care. No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbor, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198-202).

A missionary church that reaches out to others and that is animated by the joy of Christ

From the perspective of the Church in Latin America and the Church in general, Pope Francis has united our theological reflections with those of persons from other continents: When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment. For here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is what mission means (Evangelii Gaudium, #10). If the Church and Christian theology have something to proclaim and to offer to the world, it is a new future. This, then, is not some attempt to discuss the issue of who possesses the truth, the Church or the world, but rather it is an attempt to discover that both the Church and the world possess something of the truth and the truth of both parties needs to be integrated in a complementary manner. The truth does not exclude but rather integrates. The incarnation of the Church in the post-modern era signifies an incarnation in the midst of pluralism. All of this is one of the achievements that has resulted from the openness created by the Second Vatican Council. Now the Church must confront, accompany and help to guide the People of God who live in the midst of a post-modern society … men and women who are often disillusioned and helpless and who experience the temptation to adhere to neo-liberalism or neo-conservatism or religious fundamentalism.

Pope Francis’ desire for a poor church, for a church that is a friend of the poor not only echoes the hope of the Church in Latin America, but it is also an invitation to all the faithful to follow and to imitate the Son of God who became man, who being rich opted to become poor so that he might share with all people the richness of his divine condition. Therefore, Jesus speaks and acts in accord with the spirit of the gospel and is able to sense the transformative and salvific power of all his words: blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3) .[18] Christ calls the pilgrim church to on-going renewal and reform and the Church, as a human and worldly institution, is always in need to such renewal and reform. There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling”, any new structure will soon prove ineffective (Evangelii Gaudium, #26). I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security (Evangelii Gaudium, #49).

An evangelization with itinerant elements in formation and in the missionaries

The construction of a new paradigm for evangelization arises as a result of the inability of the present model to respond to the new circumstances in which we live … the inability of the present model to embrace an attitude of conversion that leads people to a new way of being church and a new way of evangelizing [19]. Just as our mission is accomplished in community and thus the mission becomes the integrating element of our life as Vincentians, so also we can say the same thing about the itinerant character of our life together and about our on-going formation. To journey with another is to be an itinerant missionary (an itinerant missionary from the perspective of evangelizing the poor in the same manner as Vincent de Paul and from the perspective of our vocation as a response to God’s call). Taking responsibility for our on-going formation is also a way of becoming an itinerant missionary because we thus renew our thinking and our methods.

Realizing the fact that as Missionaries we are called to embrace an itinerant condition, it therefore becomes necessary to strengthen our reflection in this regard, to continually update the methods that are utilized in order to accomplish the mission and at the same time to revise the materials that we use. This means that we must be aware of the reality of each place where we are called to mission and we must also be clear about the financial resources that are available for the mission and then use all the various means of communication that are currently in vogue.

Yes, there are risks in all of this but some of those risks can be minimized if we view the mission in stages, if we integrate our plans with the diocesan/parish plans, and if we dedicate the time to our pastoral ministry so that people see that evangelization is our primary concern. As missionaries reveal their enthusiasm for the mission, they motivate others to become involved in the mission. Intellectual and spiritual preparation become great tools for the missionary and provide them with the security and the authority to proclaim the gospel. Missionaries must always be willing to provide for the pastoral needs of the people.

Here I want to present some of the challenges that our itinerant condition with regard to the mission presents to us … challenges that should engage us in a process of serious and profound dialogue and discernment:

  • the challenge of embracing the new era rather than living in the past;
  • the challenge of going out and mingling in the midst of the countless men and women who are poor rather than seeking refuge in our rooms;
  • the challenge of walking along unknown but more effective and hopeful paths rather than traveling along known but obsolete paths;
  • the challenge of embracing a community project over one’s own personal project;
  • the challenge of keeping pace with the members of the community rather than asking the community to keep pace with oneself;
  • the challenge of maintaining a balance between opening our houses to the faithful and preserving some areas of the house for the exclusive use of the residents of the house;
  • the challenge of maintaining a balance between tending to the urgent demands of ministry and setting aside time to be present to the members of the local community;
  • the challenge of utilizing modern technology and being faithful to Vincent’s demand to use “simple methods”;
  • the challenge of affirming “the outcasts” as protagonists of history rather than place oneself at the center of attention of every community and/or apostolic event.

Embracing the itinerant mission rather than simply opening new paths is our irrefutable task if we want to follow the path of Jesus Christ and of Vincent de Paul … if we want to respond to the urgent spiritual needs of today’s world. To develop missionary methods, to realize that fulfilling the mission is a gradual process and to transform our mission into a hope filled mission … all of this will enable us to avoid missionary burn-out.

Throughout history the Church has been represented with various biblical images (Patristic, modern and contemporary images). The Second Vatican Council speaks about “figures” or “symbols” that reveal the nature of the Church: the people of God, the sacrament of salvation and the community of believers (Lumen Gentium, #6) … these are images that recover the primitive meaning of communion or koinonia. Today, the images that are utilized by Pope Francis affirm not only the meaning of communion but also the meaning of spirituality and evangelization

Pope Francis has stated that from the perspective of a missionary church we must recognize that every experience of evangelization ought to be focused on a spirituality that offers meaning and a clear expression of communion and drawing closer to those on the peripheries. This can only be accomplished with on-going effort so that people become involved in and support the work that has been undertaken by those ministers who are attempting to build up the community and attempting to involve the greatest number of people in the experience of Church. The pastoral activity of the Christian community ought to be focused on and enlightened by the Word of God, especially through direct contact with the Gospel and with the familiar and intimate style of Jesus. As ministers reach out to every family and every person such activity should help men and women develop themselves and should enable the walls of indifference and fear and aggression to crumble while at the same time encouraging communion and the development and sharing of personal, family and community talents.

From the perspective of a missionary church that reaches out to others, the greater part of the evangelization efforts of these ministers should be composed of the following elements: listening to the communities and sharing life with people who live in the midst of specific cultural environments, interacting with a wide range of people and participating in their activities and meetings, creating an environment of closeness and accompaniment through house visits and especially through visits to the infirm and the most vulnerable members of the community, sharing and participating in family, educational, community, recreational and street activities (organized by many different individuals and/or groups), walking the streets of these communities, being available to the different sectors of the community, entering every house, giving witness to and promoting greater intimacy and informal dialogue.

The itinerant missionary, animated by the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium, ought to be concerned about such things as the following:

  • To minister from the perspective of the signs of hope and to make more visible all that is good.
  • To plant seeds that reflect gospel values and to recover the value of life
  • To know how to initiate relevant and global projects that can be sustained and replicated.
  • To put aside ideas and methods that do not enable the Christian community to move forward.
  • To identify those situations that enable people to develop personal, family and community plans.
  • To be aware of the beliefs and the religious practices of the people who are being served.
  • To identify situations that are favorable for personal, family and community accompaniment (accompaniment that can be done in a systemic manner).
  • To be aware of the various situations that allow the missionary to draw closer to all the people in the area where they are serving.
  • To respect the boundaries of people who have been victimized and yet at the same time to assure these same people by their presence and by their willingness to accompany them.
  • To know how to establish relationships of accompaniment and to recover a sense of team/community.
  • To take time to listen to people and to form oneself in this pedagogy that will thus allow people to recount their personal life story.
  • To identify possible leaders who are willing to become involved in the process of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.
  • To avoid at all cost any attitude of paternalism and dependency.


Conclusions

Pope Francis is asking us to communicate with a new attitude and to pass on to others that which we have received as a result of tradition and our charism. The itinerant character of the Church as she walks with Jesus is one in which communion and mission are profoundly interconnected (Evangelii Gaudium, #23). In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded (Evnagelii Gaudium, #23). Today, when the networks and means of human communication have made unprecedented advances, we sense the challenge of finding and sharing a “mystique” of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage. Greater possibilities for communication thus turn into greater possibilities for encounter and solidarity for everyone. If we were able to take this route, it would be so good, so soothing, so liberating and hope-filled! To go out of ourselves and to join others is healthy for us. To be self-enclosed is to taste the bitter poison of immanence, and humanity will be worse for every selfish choice we make (Evangelii Gaudium, #87).

In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must dis¬cern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel (Evnagelii Gaudium, #20).

In the same way that Jesus often spent long hours at night in prayer to the Father and did this in the presence of his disciples, so also the itinerant missionary, at the end of each day, ought to reflect on the various events of the day in order to speak about those experiences in prayer and in community and in ministerial discernment.

The vision and the discourse of the itinerant missionaries should seek to identify and to extol the signs of hope that they discover, signs that are most numerous: the presence and the commitment of so many pastoral ministers, the spirit of solidarity, a concern for the human promotion of men and women, a spirit of hard work and an attitude of communion; a willingness and a freedom that allows people to support the processes and the plans of the larger community, signs of piety, commitment to the present reality and to pastoral ministry in the midst of that reality, the participation of children and adolescents in community and ecclesial activities, organizational processes that are established by the laity, people’s trust as seen by their participation in the sacrament of Reconciliation and by their willingness to request counseling and spiritual direction, frequent participation in the Eucharist. Thus this fundamental, yet discrete presence, becomes a school of life to continue the mission and to build community.

By way of synthesis and conclusion with regard to this reflection on the importance and the implications of mobility on the mission I simply want to refer to what Antonio Rodríguez Carmona calls the theology of the prophetic and saving path when he says: God the Father established a saving path. In the past he made a promise with regard to salvation and that promise was fulfilled in and by Jesus, the prophet and only Savior. Now the Church, as a prophetic people, has to walk along that same path, has to give witness to that salvation and also has to be an instrument of that same salvation until the end of time. That path has four stages: promise, fulfillment/Christ, fulfillment/Church, and fulfillment/consummation [20] .

Footnotes

[1] C.M. Galli, “El viento del sur de Aparecida a Rio. El Proyecto misionero latinoamericano en la teología y el estilo pastoral de Francisco” in Seminarios LX, (May-August 2014), p. 211.

[2] V. Tsangandahy, “La mission popular en el contexto de una iglesia joven. El Caso de Madagascar” in Vincentiana, volume XLI, #4-5, (July-October 1997), p. 399-404.

[3] Carlos Mesters, La Formacion del pueblo de Dios, Navarra, Verbo Divino, 1997.

[4] J. Alfaro, Mysterium Salutis. Manual de teología como historia de la salvación. La iglesia (Vol. IV) Madrid, Cristiandad, 1984.

[5] F. García López, El Pentateuco, Navarra, Verbo Divino, 2003,

[6] J. Schmid, El Evangelio según san Lucas, Barcelona, Herder, 1968.

[7] José Antonio Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, translated by Margaret Wilde, Convivum Press, Revised Edition, 5th Printing, Miami, 2014, p. 95-97.

[8] J. Fitzmyer, El Evangelio según san Lucas, volume II, Madrid.

[9] Pagola, op.cit., p. 97-98

[10] A. Grün, Jesús, imagen de los hombres. El evangelio de Lucas, Navarra, Verbo Divino, 2007.

[11] VINCENT DE PAUL, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-13b), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009; volume XI, p. 98; future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number.

[12] Adelino Ornelas, CM, “Vincent de Paul and the Holy See” in Vincentiana, volume LV, #2 (April-June 2011), p. 160-162.

[13] B. Romo, http://somos.vicencianos.org/david/san-vicente-de-paul-y-la-mision-2/

[14] A. Cadavid, Historia de la Teología, síntesis teológica. UPB, Medellín, 2011.

[15] M. Moronta, “Francisco, Papa de la Nueva Evangelización” in Seminarios, 2014.

[16] A. Galeano, Jesucristo un viviente misterioso. Señor y meta de la historia, Medellin, UPB, 2012.

[17 ] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, translated by Walter Kaufmann and RJ Hollingdale, Vintage Books, New York, 1968, p. 123.

[18] B. Forte, “Sinceridad, sencillez, sobriedad: he aqui Francisco” in Seminarios, 2014.


[19] A. Bogatá, El paradigm de evangelización en la arquidiócesis de Bogotá. Fundamentos teológicos y pastorales, Bogotá, Instituto San Pablo Apóstol, 2014.

[20] A. Rodriguez Carmona, Predicación del Evangelio de san Lucas, Madrid, Edice, 1985.


Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM