Reflections on mission for August

Fr. Denis Carter has prepared reflections on Columban mission, adapted from the experiences of Columban Missionaries on assignments around the world. There is one reflection for each week of August.

Week 1: Loosing weight

I recall the words of a neighbour a few weeks after I arrived in Condevilla, a barrio on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. I had recently moved in to live with a family and was trying to relate as friend and neighbour as well as resident priest. He said to me in the course of the conversation: “Padre, you are a man of weight in this barrio”.  He was referring, of course, to the presumed cultural superiority and economic clout that my North American identity gave to me. I had to spend the next two years or so “losing weight”.

By emptying himself of his being God, Christ commits himself to a radical way of mission relationship.  His self-emptying was the doorway to mission.  As a result he could do mission with empty hands. He could relate to people as brother, servant, pastor, prophet. With empty hands, aware of our vulnerabilities, frailties and fears, we too reach out in mission

Frank Regan (Peru, Britain)

Reflect: How important is it to embark on mission with humility?

Week 2: Exploiting the poor

What if you had have been born in Africa on the Ivory Coast, or in Ghana? What if you had have been born in some other country of the South? What gives us the right, because of historical accident, to take for ourselves all the wealth of the earth and pollute it and destroy it at a level which is not sustainable? We have no right to do that. So I think we need to keep pushing the powerful Group of Eight (G8) world leaders to actually do something about it. Not next year, not when all the conditions they impose on poor countries are fulfilled, but now.

If we, the dominant 20 percent only take for ourselves the vast majority of the goodness of the earth, and at the same time pollute at a level of 40 times more than what anyone else does in the Third World, then what sort of a society do we have?

Brian Gore (Philippines, Australia)

Reflect: What obligations do we have to the poor from our standpoint as citizens of one of the world’s rich and powerful countries?

Week 3: Learning humility

The Asian tsunami of December 2004 must teach us humility with respect to the natural world and indigenous peoples. We tend to think that modern human society has the technological capacity to dominate nature and solve any environmental problem, but this is not the case. In fact, the disaster demonstrated that humans lack the sensitivity of other living species. In Thailand, a handful of tourists had elephants to thanks for their lives. The animals felt the earthquake and sensed the tsunami coming, their keepers said. They began to trumpet inconsolably and turned to move inland.

Indigenous peoples too had sufficient affinity with the natural world to know that something was wrong. The Onge tribal people of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, for example, largely escaped the waves. They fled to high ground when they noticed the sea level receding in an unusual way. According to Survival International, their awareness of the ocean has been accumulated over 60,000 years of inhabiting the islands.

Ellen Teague (Nigeria, Britain)

Reflect: Why has mainstream human society grown away from an affinity with God’s creation?

Week 4: Interfaith by radio

When Pope John Paul II invited leaders of different Faiths to pray with him in Assisi in January 2002, it was arguably the high point of his long Pontificate. His extraordinary initiative showed respect for other religions and recognised that God relates with people in many different ways. About the same time in Pakistan, and no doubt elsewhere, people of goodwill sought greater acceptance of religious differences through interfaith meetings.

We should not need a 9/11 or the more recent tragic events of 7/7 to shock us into seeking harmony with other religions. But such meetings at least bring some good out of the violence. Dialogue between religious leaders is important as they explore differences and, more importantly, points of unity. But we must not forget ordinary people. Where I work, in Pakistan, we use radio to reach illiterate people, especially in remote villages, who are most at the mercy of fanatics.

Colm Murphy (Korea, Belgium, Pakistan)

Reflect: What can we learn from this scriptural quote?

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