FORMATION FOR THE MISSION: From the Perspective of our Vincentian Charism

By Manuel Ginete CM
[Paper presented in Mysore, February 2006]

Introduction

Many in the Congregation feel that the highest accolade one can receive is to be called a “missionary”. Many would want it as epitaph in their tomb – “missionary” or “priest of the mission”. I know this was what the first Filipino Visitor, the late Fr. Benjamin Ortazón, wanted for himself. Well, he fully deserved the name and honor, having lived and died in Japan as a missionary for more than 20 years.

But what really does the word “missionary” mean? Who deserves to be called such? Only those who have worked abroad in foreign mission? Or those who have worked in popular missions? How about those of us who spent practically all our life in the ministry of forming our own members or those of the diocesan clergy? Don’t we deserve also such a title? Likewise, those who have worked in universities and schools, or even in rich parishes – are they also “missionaries”?

I am sure you will agree with me that all this is no mere romanticism. It has direct connection with our own identity and its relationship to our ministry. The name “missionary” carries a load of meaning that had people in the past and even today making distinction, impliedly or explicitly, between the “real” members and the “also” members.

In the topic assigned to me, “Formation for the Mission from the Perspective of our Vincentian Charism,” the word “Mission,” and hence the derivatives “missionary” or “priest/brother of the Mission,” is extremely significant. But since you are all formators, we may very well assume that you know what this word means. In fact, I am sure, you have spent much time teaching its meaning to our candidates in the internal seminary or in the major seminary. Hence, perhaps there is no more need to expound on it. But, I would suppose that a review of some important points would not necessarily be useless as we all try to improve on our own contribution to formation work. More importantly, a clear understanding of our “Mission” may just make us rethink our priorities and re-align our formation strategies the better to make them more responsive to the needs of the young (or old) people who are aiming to join the “Congregation of the Mission”.[1] For this reason, I accepted the invitation to give a conference on this topic. I will proceed following this outline:

 

1. Mission in Asia-Pacific: Present Situation

2. Mission in Vincentian Tradition

3. Mission: New Challenges and their Implications on Formation

4. Worldwide CM Mission and Asia-Pacific

 

1. Mission in Asia-Pacific: Present Situation

 

One of the encouraging comments I hear from other Provinces is this one: Asia-Pacific has really become more mission-minded. In general, I would suppose the one who made the comment was speaking about “foreign mission” or “Missio Ad Gentes”. For sure this is welcome to the ears and it warms the heart, but do the facts really bear out this complement?

Well, here is the picture of the Asia-Pacific Provinces in terms of their apostolic commitments.

 

Ad Gentes: Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, China, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Fiji, Solomons

Popular Mission: Kalimantan, Bohol, Pangasinan, Bicol, other mission centers

Work for the Clergy: Melbourne, Cebu, Malang, Blitar, Quezon City

Parishes: many places

Education: Manila, Mysore, Chennai, Gopalpur, Surabaya, Bathurst, Ukkunagaram

“Mission” with migrant workers in Greece, Italy, Spain

Mission in urban areas like London, Dublin

Work for Justice and peace, advocacy

“Reverse” mission to Europe.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive listing of our ministerial involvements. As you can see, we have our own share of missions ad Gentes, but a good part of our ministry is concentrated on apostolates that otherwise would not ordinarily be referred to as missionary.[2] In face of these varied ministries, the question to ask relative to our topic would be this: are all these apostolates to be considered under the general term “Mission”? I am sure there are some purists who would not agree, especially if they identify “Mission” with “evangelization of the poor”. In other words, they can well ask, are the people we serve in schools and universities poor or the “most abandoned,” (to use an expression so dear to St. Vincent and the Common Rules)? Yet, others would say that indeed they could all be subsumed under the word “Mission” but understood in the broad sense. In either case, we realize immediately that “Mission” is far from the simple word it is often made out to mean.

These are not academic questions. They actually have important implications. For example, as formators what do you tell our candidates as our “Mission”? What is the sense of the word “Mission” in our name? If you interpret the word broadly, some candidates may very easily say, “you are no different from other congregations who want to work for the poor but who also include other possible ministries; therefore, why would I want to join your group?” On the other hand, if we use “Mission” in the strict sense, how do we justify the other apostolic commitments that may have only an indirect link to the evangelization of the poor, if at all? And still another significant implication: if we interpret “Mission” strictly or broadly, what kind of formation, what specifics do we adopt in order to prepare them for the future “Mission” they will undertake in the Congregation? A third implication, of course, may be the question being asked in Provincial Assemblies or Provincial Councils, i.e., given the limited number of personnel, how do we prioritize the ministries we take up, and which ones do we give up, and what criteria would we use in doing so? These are questions that I am sure had been asked and are being asked continually by leaders as well as members of each of our Provinces. They are also questions, in my opinion, that are important for us to address as members and especially as formation personnel of the Asia-Pacific region, in view of what I consider as the decisive role we may be asked to take in the worldwide Congregation, particularly in the coming years.

One most ordinary way of answering these questions and resolving the issues around the meaning of “Mission” is to go back to our foundational documents – Common Rules, conferences of St. Vincent, etc. – and pronouncements of General Assemblies. Well, I have opted to do just that. I trust that a review of our history, the Common Rules, the new Constitutions and Statutes, and even the more recent documents, such as the Ratio Formationis for the Internal Seminary and the Ratio Formationis for the Major Seminary, and not least, the Ratio Missionum, would be of help here as we try to re-capture the meaning of the word “Mission.”

 

2. Mission in Vincentian Tradition

 

If you were to ask all Vincentians in what this Mission consists, more than half of them will surely answer “the evangelization of the poor”. Now, is this view supported by our Vincentian tradition, official documents and the experience of almost four hundred years? This topic is a very interesting study in itself, and I certainly do not have the time to make a thorough historical analysis of the subject.[3] But here, allow me to simply point out the main lines of development in the understanding of Mission through these years.

 

 

2.1 “Mission” prior to and in the Common Rules

 

Written by St. Vincent de Paul after decades of missionary experience, the Common Rules was the Congregation’s “Constitutions and Statutes” for more than three hundred years. In a way, its understanding of Mission came to be regarded as determinative and fundamental and it was a great influence on future understanding. But even the Common Rules itself was a product of more than thirty years of missionary experience. It benefited from hindsight and a certain form of “redaction” as we shall see shortly. And so we ask, in the early years of the Congregation, in the 1620’s, how was “Mission” understood?

“Mission” in 1627

 

When Vincent approached the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith for approval of his group of “missionaries”, he did not speak of a “Congregation” but rather of a “Mission”.[4] This was a technical term for a group of missionaries who devoted themselves to an apostolic activity in a temporary manner. They were sometimes from religious congregations, but for the most part they depended on the Propaganda for their apostolic work. Clearly, what is referred to here as “Mission” is the community of missionaries dedicated, within a specific time-frame, to a particular apostolate, and receiving the endorsement of authorities in Rome. This meaning was soon overtaken by another more apropos to their pastoral involvements.

 

“Mission” in the Letter of June 1628

 

In the letter to Pope Urban VIII, in June 1628,[5] Vincent and his companions sought the approval and confirmation of the Congregation. This is how “Mission” is described in this letter.

 

“They came together and formed a society on which they live under the title and by the name of Priests of the Mission or Missionaries. They live under the direction and correction of this Vincent de Paul, devoting themselves entirely to the salvation of people dwelling in the country. For this purpose they go from town to town, passing from village to village, preaching sermons and exhortations to the people. They teach everyone, both publicly and privately, the catechism and the mysteries of faith necessary for salvation, of which most of the people are completely ignorant. They prepare them for general confessions of their whole life and hear them. They convert heretics, bring lawsuits and quarrels to an end, appease enmities and hatreds, and establish the Confraternity of Charity where it is necessary for the corporal and spiritual relief of the sick poor. With the help of God, they are now carrying out all these pious works, not only in the villages and towns belonging to the noble founders – places which they must visit every five years and perform the aforesaid ministries – but they have also labored successfully in many other parts and dioceses of this Kingdom of France,. . . bringing about the salvation of the poor and the incredible edification of all. . . . Their first and foremost purpose will be to strive for their own perfection and to devote themselves entirely to the country people.” [6] (underlining mine)

 

Reading this letter, it is good to underscore the verbs: preaching, teaching, preparing for the reception of sacraments, convert heretics, bring to end, establish Confraternity of Charity, etc. Also it is noteworthy where these activities were done: the archdiocese of Paris as well as outside it. All is done in order to bring salvation to the poor, corporally and spiritually. Generally, all these activities are those of the “missionaries” or “priests of the mission.” Likewise, the final sentence that I underline is important to remember because later, notably in the Common Rules, it would occupy a special place in the description of the Congregation’s purpose, nature and spirit.

 

The Common Rules

 

The understanding of “Mission” that we find in the Common Rules (CR) is slightly different: the starting point is Christ and his example of preaching the good news to poor people.

 

“Now the little Congregation of the Mission wants . . . to imitate Christ . . . It seeks to imitate his virtues as well as what he did for the salvation of others. . . the whole purpose of the Congregation is: 1º to have a genuine commitment to grow in holiness, patterning ourselves, as far as possible, on the virtues which the great Master himself graciously taught us in what he said and did; 2º to preach the good news of salvation to poor people, especially in rural areas; 3º to help seminarians and priests to grow in knowledge and virtue, so that they can be effective in their ministry.” (CR I, 1)

 

As to the forms of ministry, aside from the missions, the Congregation’s ministry “includes settling quarrels and disputes, establishing Confraternity of Charity, staffing seminaries which have been set up in our houses for diocesan clergy, giving retreats, and organizing meetings of priests in our houses. Their work also includes any other ministry which is supportive of those mentioned.” (CR I, 2)

Other parts of the Common Rules (specifically CR I, 2 and I, 3) can shed light on the understanding of “Mission”, and we can also go to these and analyze the usage of this term in their particular contexts as well as its over-all meaning. But for now, the above is sufficient, for I simply want to underline the slight shift in the formulation of the understanding of “Mission” in Vincent de Paul.

In the CR there is now a distinction between purpose (end) of the Congregation and its ministry. The primary purpose is to commit oneself to grow in holiness, after the example of Christ. The secondary purpose is to evangelize the poor. And the third purpose is to help seminarians and priests, intellectually and spiritually, in order to be effective in their ministry.

What one notices in the CR reformulation are the following:

First, the purpose is Christocentric, i.e., imitation of Christ in his virtues and in his work for the salvation of others. In other words, the Mission is understood as primarily Christ’s mission, in which we choose to participate. As Vincent used to repeat, Christ is the Rule of the Mission.[7]

Second, Christ’s mission is further narrowed down, but not limited, to the “evangelization of the poor country people”. This is the primary “Mission” but there are others which are “supportive of those mentioned” (CR 2)

Third, the assumption is that one becomes successful in following Christ’s mission of evangelizing the poor to the extent that one first of all puts on his spirit, i.e., commits himself to holiness (or perfection). This is all the more clear when even in regard to the third purpose; the aim is first of all to assist them to attain a level of holiness that would hopefully enable them to be effective in their ministry. Clearly Vincent saw that affectivity in their apostolate presupposes a certain level of holiness, or at least, a commitment to work towards holiness.

Fourth, the following of Christ is not limited to putting on his spirit, and working for the evangelization of the poor. In CR I, 1, with respect to the work with the clergy, one is counseled to do it in the manner of Christ himself who passed on “to his apostles and disciples what they needed to know to become guide for others.” This is the ecclesiological dimension in St. Vincent which does not always receive the proper attention it deserves. The saint’s humility has convinced him that the Mission of evangelizing the poor is too great a task for a “small company” like the Congregation of the Mission. But at the same time, it was his comprehensive understanding of the role of each member of the Church, clergy and laity, which eventually would make him recruit people from all levels of society to work for the poor; in fact he was among the very first reformers and founders to do so.

Fifth and finally, the ministries to be adopted by the missionaries are always those that best respond to the needs of the poor, whether they are spiritual or corporal.

All these activities under the term “Mission” have to be seen from the general and particular historical context of the CR and of St. Vincent, i.e., the reforms of the Council of Trent, missionary expansion of the Church, political problems in France in particular and in other parts of Europe, and even in Africa. I believe it is accurate to say that St. Vincent and the first missionaries were responding to the needs of the poor at that time, in whatever way they manifested themselves. This is the general framework that has allowed the Congregation to take up various activities through the years, all in the name of working for the material and spiritual welfare of the poor.

 

2.2 1985 Constitutions and Statutes[8]

 

For more than 300 years, the Common Rules written by St. Vincent was for all intents and purposes the Congregation’s fundamental law.[9] In the 1960’s the Second Vatican Council called all religious communities and congregations to renewal and “aggiornamento”. Expressly it asked that these first go back to the original spirit and the sources of their foundation and then to update it in line with the principles enunciated in this historic Council. Our Congregation responded to this call by engaging the entire membership in the renewal of its spirit and works, dedicating the General Assemblies of 1968-1969, 1974, and 1980 in the elaboration of what would eventually become the updated Constitutions of 1985.

If we are to examine what these Constitutions say about the “Mission”, we find it affirming faithfully what the Common Rules stated as the end, nature, and spirit of the Congregation. This is elaborated on in Part One on Vocation (Articles 1.9). As simple as it appears, it however contains between the lines the very important and critical debate that raged within the Congregation in search of its identity in the post-Vatican II era. Much has been written already about this debate, particularly in the Vincentiana issues from the 1960s onwards. For our purposes it is good to highlight briefly the main points in the debate.[10] We do so primarily in order to see how the meaning of “Mission” came to be interpreted in several ways throughout these years. In this way I hope we will appreciate better the import of the series of questions we posed at the beginning and that in fact these are the same questions that were addressed very seriously by our confreres in the recent past.

 

  • While the Common Rules was clear on the Congregation’s purpose (end), subsequent apostolic commitments came to bear upon their re-interpretation. The 1954 Constitutions, for example, while preserving the terms of the Common Rules, made the distinction between a “general end” (to work on one’s personal perfection) and a “specific end” which enumerated three, the first two of which comes from the Common Rules, i.e., the evangelization of the poor and the formation of the clergy. The third “specific end” is something new, i.e., “to give itself to works of charity and education”. [11] It was talked about that this last was a concession to those Provinces engaged in schools and universities.
  • From the General Assembly of 1968-1969 up to that of 1980, the one topic that occupied much of the debate was on the end of the Congregation. After all, the end, nature, and spirit are essential components of the Congregation’s identity. But of these, the hardest one to clarify was the end. The central question being asked then was: does the Congregation of the Mission have one end or more than one?[12]
  • The General Assembly of 1974 presented the evangelization of the poor as “our end”, “our sign, the reason for being of our life and the backbone of everything.” It goes back to St. Vincent’s saying “this is our peculiar calling, to be dedicated to the poor like Jesus Christ. Consequently, our vocation is the continuation of his vocation…”
  • In the preparation for the General Assembly of 1980, a great majority of the provinces opted for the evangelization of the poor as the only end. This the General Assembly affirmed absolutely.
  • After this 12-year search for the Congregation’s identity, the 1980 General Assembly pronounced that the end of the Congregation is to follow Jesus Christ Evangelizer of the Poor.

 

With this as historical background, we can now appreciate the present text in the Constitutions and Statutes.

 

C.1 “The purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to follow Christ evangelizing the poor. The purpose is achieved when, faithful to St. Vincent, the members individually and collectively:

1º make every effort to put on the spirit of Christ himself (CR I,3) in order to acquire a holiness appropriate to their vocation (CR XII, 13);

2º work at evangelizing the poor, especially the more abandoned;

3º help the clergy and laity in their formation and lead them to a fuller participation in the evangelizing of the poor.

 

Truly, the formulation in the present Constitutions and Statutes, given the heated debate that went before its formulation, was a stroke of genius, particularly if we consider the following points:

First, it remained faithful to the spirit of the Common Rules, by putting Christ at the heart of the Congregation’s vocation and at the same time, by emphasizing not just any aspect of Christ but specifically the Christ who is primarily the Evangelizer of the poor. This distinguishes us from the Jesuits and other congregations who also aim to follow Christ. The new Constitutions also retain the priority of ministries to be taken up by the Congregation.

Second, “evangelization of the poor”, strictly speaking, is not the end of the Congregation; it is following Christ evangelizing the poor. In fact, “evangelization of the poor” has two senses: one, as the characteristic mission of the Christ whom we follow, and two, as a specific ministry in the Congregation, a means to achieve the following of Christ (C I, 2º).

Third, because there is only one end, i.e., to follow Christ evangelizing the poor, striving for holiness, work of evangelization with the poor, ministry to the clergy and lay people – all three of which are mentioned in the Common Rules as the “whole purpose of the Congregation” – are now presented by the new Constitutions as means towards achieving the one purpose or end which is to follow Christ evangelizing the poor.

Fourth, our kind of holiness in the Congregation means putting on the spirit of the Evangelizer of the poor. What the Common Rules indicate as the first purpose, i.e., to have a genuine commitment to grow in holiness, which can often be more introspective and self-centered (especially when the word perfection is used), is re-interpreted to mean striving for holiness in the manner of Christ who preached the Gospel to the poor. So, even the kind of holiness we work on is centered on the mission of Christ, which is the evangelization of the poor (“appropriate to their vocation”).

Fifth, direct evangelization of the poor is not the only ministry by which we can follow Christ. We can also engage in the work of formation of the clergy and of the laity – which is a category that is large enough to include all types of ministry, but also limited inasmuch as they should all be oriented towards the following of Christ in his mission to bring the gospel to the poor. This formulation answers the concerns of some sectors in the Congregation that are engaged in schools and universities, which many have deemed (and even now deem?) less than an apostolate for the poor. By having the concern for the evangelization of the poor as an over-all framework, they are now able to see how ministry in universities and schools fits into the whole spectrum of the Congregation’s apostolates and thus retain their truly Vincentian character. (As a historical note, it is this precision that enabled our Vincentian universities and schools to re-direct their goals and vision into being more pro-poor.) This in a way answered the concerns in the 1968-1969 Assemblies, and even earlier, in the 1954 Assembly.

This same orientation for the poor is clear in the reformulation of the third means (3º) on helping the clergy and laity in their own formation. The ultimate purpose for doing so is precisely in order to “lead them to a fuller participation in the evangelizing of the poor”. Compare this with what the CR place as the third purpose: “to help seminarians and priests to grown in knowledge and virtue, so that they can be effective in their ministry.” The present text specifies the orientation of this ministry towards the evangelization of the poor.

Sixth, the inclusion of the laity’s formation among our ministries underlines an implicit ecclesiology that is characteristic of St. Vincent: an understanding of Church as consisting of clergy, laity and religious – all seeking to continue Christ’s mission towards the poor members of the Church. Thus, the mission is considered not just as the Congregation’s task but also that of other people (clergy and laity) in the Church. There is a deep sense of communion (we are truly sons of the Church) that underlies this formulation and further delineated in C 3.2 (“The Congregation of the Mission, according to the tradition set forth by St. Vincent, carries on its own apostolate in close cooperation with the bishops and the diocesan clergy.”) Implied as well is a genuine spirit of humility, i.e. we cannot do all this by ourselves alone.

From all this, it has now become clear that the Mission to which the Congregation is called is none other than Christ’s own mission of evangelizing the poor. The means, the strategies, the structures, etc., that are called for in order to accomplish such a mission will always have to be referred to and seen from the primordial Model – Christ, evangelizing the poor. The word “Mission” combines the following of Christ and the work of bringing God’s good news to the poor and the more abandoned. “Mission” in the Congregation is an apostolate (evangelization of the poor) and a lifestyle (following of Christ).[13]

Such understanding of “Mission” was brought to bear in the other sections of the Constitution, particularly for our purposes, in Chapter VI on Formation. Article 77 states that “our formation, in a continuous process, should have as its purpose that the members, animated by the spirit of St. Vincent, become suitable to carry on the mission of the Congregation.” The same understanding would serve as launching point in subsequent documents of the Congregation, such as the Lines of Action formulated by the 37th General Assembly (1986) and the two “Ratio Formationis” that have been formulated since. Let us take a quick look at these.

 

2.3 1986 General Assembly Unum Corpus, Unus Spiritus in Christo: Lines of Action for the Congregation of the Mission 1986-1992.

 

A year after the effectivity of the new Constitutions and Statutes, the 37th General Assembly was held with the theme of “Unum Corpus, Unus Spiritus in Christo”. This theme was expressly chosen in view of the desire to seek unity amid diversity. The promulgation of the new Constitutions did not of course lead to an immediate unity in the Congregation especially because the commitment to the “Mission” of following Christ in the evangelization of the poor was “being lived in different ways in different Provinces.”[14] The General Assembly thought that “the best way to promote unity amid diversity was to propose some lines of action which will orient the efforts of the whole Congregation in a common direction.” [15] Thus, the document proposed some lines of action for the succeeding six years, stressing in the process the sentiment that “the Congregation exists in the Church for the sake of the mission which consists in following Christ the evangelizer of the poor, is carried out in community, and is prepared for by formation.” [16] It reiterates that indeed it is the “mission which brings a dynamic unity to the lines of action.”[17]

What is noteworthy about the lines of action in this document is precisely the re-discovered “new sense of Mission” that has marked the Congregation’s journey in recent years. This has permeated the entire life of the community such that the proposed lines of action came to be constantly re-directed towards the Mission, thus, evangelization for the Mission, community for the Mission, and formation for the Mission. In terms of the apostolate in which the Congregation is engaged, the lines of action gave emphasis to “participation in the life of the poor and commitment to their liberation and salvation”, as well as “the revitalization of those forms of mission which are more in accord with the context of each country and Province.” Commitment to justice and the promotion of the poor was also deemed as “missionary” and so was the ministry towards the clergy which, in the opinion of the General Assembly, needed revitalization and upon which new creative efforts should be made. Popular missions, and inter-provincial collaboration in missions “ad Gentes” were likewise promoted.[18]

In the area of community life, the document stressed that “fraternal communion . . . can and ought to be a source of energy for the mission.” It also gave importance to the drawing up of community plans, on the local as well as provincial levels, and to meetings, publications, studies, and bulletins, which promote the deepening of the sense of mission and the Vincentian spirit.[19] A significant emphasis was on the “search for the necessary and life-giving balance between the needs of the mission and the conditions necessary for community life… We cannot withdraw from the mission under the pretext of safeguarding community life; but on the other hand, according to St. Vincent, to sacrifice community life would be a fatal blow to our mission. (CR VIII)” [20]

The re-direction of Formation towards the mission received also close attention in this document. In fact, the expression “Formation for the Mission” which later became a catchword for the renewed approach to formation had its origin in this particular document.[21] Unequivocally, it states “the goal of Vincentian formation is to prepare those who feel called to the Congregation to participate in the evangelization of the poor.” Formation is also to flow from the mission. In view of this, the document underscored the importance of having “direct contact with the poor in order to know their life-situation, reflect on the causes of poverty, and allow themselves to be evangelized by the poor.” In practical terms, this would imply that formation houses should, as much as possible, be located in poor areas. Also, in the matter of promoting vocations, the General Assembly agreed that among the most effective ways of attracting young men to our community are a simple life-style, joyful community life, and a clear witness to our love and service of the poor. And, of course, a most critical line of action was the proper choice and preparation of formators, who would be guided by a “Ratio Formationis”.

In conclusion, the document recapitulates the re-discovered perspective of the mission. “It is in his (Christ’s) footsteps that we desire to walk, in order to continue his mission as the Evangelizer of the Poor.” [22]

2.4 “Mission” in the “Ratio Formationis

 

Mention was already made in the forgoing section about the need for a Ratio Formationis suited to the demands of the Mission. Actually, in fulfillment of one of the decrees of the 1980 General Assembly, a “Ratio Formationis” for the Internal Seminary was drawn up and was presented by the Superior General in December 1982.[23]

This Ratio reiterates what Article 77.1 of the Constitutions says about the focus of the whole formation program, i.e., “the vocation of the Congregation: to follow Christ the evangelizer of the poor so as to announce the good news to the poor of our time”.[24] It also places “Vincentian Missionary Formation” as one of five axes of formation, along with spiritual life, apostolic life, community life and human maturity. While it stresses that these five axes are complementary and are all aimed at “preparing the seminaries to take part in the mission of the Church, servant and poor, according to the end of the Congregation”, the Congregation’s “end” gives the other axes a specifically Vincentian character.[25]

Another “Ratio Formationis,” that for the Major Seminary of the Congregation of the Mission,[26] was formulated and presented six years later. This was consequent to the lines of action on formation, which called for the formulation of a “Ratio Formationis Vincentiana” for the major seminary and for brothers.[27] One noticeable difference between this and the Ratio for the Internal Seminary is in the way it treats the distinctively Vincentian characteristic in the formation process. The Superior General, Richard McCullen, points this out in his presentation letter. He notes that the Commission tasked to draft this document “has tried to see, so to speak, the process of formation as Saint Vincent might see it, were he living in the post Vatican II era.” [28]

On the specifically Vincentian characteristic of formation, this Ratio differs markedly from the previous Ratio for the Internal Seminary. Whereas the latter speaks of five axes (Vincentian, spiritual life, apostolic life, community life and human maturity), this Ratio speaks first of the Vincentian axis, and then the five dimensions, i.e., formation in human maturity, spiritual, intellectual, apostolic and community life. Here, the Vincentian is not considered as one of the five dimensions but rather as the vantage point from which the five dimensions of formation are to be seen.

 

Our Vincentian charism must influence the whole process of our formation: it should, consequently, permeate the entire course of the major seminary program. This document views the major seminary program from the perspective of its Vincentian axis and considers our human, spiritual, intellectual, apostolic, and community formation in that light . . .” [29]

 

In other words, the Vincentian Axis, which is centered on the following of Christ, the Evangelizer of the Poor, is not just another dimension in the formation process but one that brings a distinctive character to the other five dimensions. This is explicitly noted in the attempt to live out the five virtues of the Congregation as well as the four vows. In this Ratio references to how these virtues and vows contribute to our mission are ample and deliberate:

 

  • human formation seeks to develop the whole potential of the human person so that the candidate might become “a good worker for the Mission” (16);
  • spiritual formation consists in putting on the spirit of Christ, and especially upon the profession of the vows, it deepens the commitment to dedicate the whole life to the service of the poor in the Congregation and follow Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor (20, 28);
  • intellectual formation is aimed “not only at mastering the context of various sciences but also at assisting the students to develop a distinctly Vincentian perspective,” as it promotes a life-long openness to theological knowledge as foundation for pastoral practice as missionaries (31);
  • apostolic formation should give the opportunity to “experience the condition of the poor, so as to evangelize them and be evangelized by them (43);
  • formation for community life creates the consciousness that our community is for the mission (47).

 

In brief, the sense of “Mission” that the Constitutions and Statutes clearly underlined is now deeply integrated in the various levels of formation in the Congregation. This focus has been sharpened and made urgent.

 

 

2.5 “Mission” in “Ratio Missionum”

 

A significant document concerning “Mission” was drawn up and published in 2002. This was the “Ratio Missionum,”[30] which “seeks to offer guidelines for those serving in foreign missions in light of the many changes that have occurred in the Church and the world in recent years.”[31]

While this Ratio is expressly for the “missions” ad Gentes, it is however important to take a look at it in order to decipher the understanding of “mission.” A very instructive section of the RM is Chapter II, which discusses the “new missionary paradigm.” This new paradigm “envisions the Church as a communion of local Churches in union with Rome. . .” and sees “evangelization as beginning whenever a missionary leaves his or her own culture and crosses a human frontier (geographical or social) to announce the Gospel in a new culture.” Furthermore, it asserts that the “missionary not only proclaims the mystery of Christ, but is evangelized too as he or she accompanies others in the process of discovering the Spirit of the Lord already acting in a local Church or culture.”[32] It then goes on to cite four elements present in the new missionary paradigm, namely, evangelization, inculturation, a polycentric Church, and respect for other religions and ecumenism. Evangelization highlights the centrality of Christ and his message of God’s kingdom. But missionary evangelization “always implies the meeting of cultures,” and that is why it is most important, according to the RM, to make sure that the Gospel the missionary preaches is communicated in terms of the local culture, while always attempting to do it in such a way “that people can encounter the person of Christ and become disciples.”[33] Much responsibility for this is placed on the local Churches, which, while expressing the diverse manners of living the faith in Jesus, also seek to remain in communion with one another. [34]

In speaking about “formation for mission,” the RM underscores the urgency and importance of a specifically missionary formation which includes not only courses on inculturation but also on the distinctively Vincentian character of our missions.

 

To sum up

 

If we are to summarize all of the matters we discussed in this part of my conference, we can say that the “Mission” that was re-discovered in the present Constitutions and Statutes was essentially none other than what St. Vincent himself had proposed in the Common Rules on the end, nature, and spirit of the Congregation. By way of a catch phrase, we can say that the “ Mission” in the Congregation of the Mission means “following Christ, evangelizer of the poor.”

But such a “formula” is never to be treated from a static standpoint. The identity of the Congregation is definitely dynamic, organic and alive, always seeking to express itself in newer forms in the context of a new culture, a new situation. And that is why there is need for us to make explicit the new challenges to our “Mission” today, and their repercussions on our formation program. It is to these that we now turn.

 

 

3. Mission: New Challenges and Implications on Formation

 

How do we bring up to date the “Mission” of the Congregation? What challenges does it face in today’s world? What should we do in order to respond optimally to these challenges? These are the questions we shall attempt to answer in this third part.

My reflection in this section of my conference will revolve around the phrase: “following Christ, evangelizing the poor.” But structurally, I will proceed from the last part of the phrase and then move backwards, thus:

· evangelizing the poor (stressing our distinctive concern),

· Christ (the Model, Guide, Rule of the Mission, etc.), and

· following Christ (approaches, strategies, pastoral practice, etc.).

 

 

3.1 “Evangelizing the poor”

 

Just as Christ was responding to the needs of the poor during his time, and St. Vincent himself to those in seventeenth-century Europe and abroad, so also we need to respond to the cries of the poor in our own times. The General Assemblies of recent memory have tried precisely to bring this to the fore and have discussed the “new forms of poverty” that have surfaced today.[35] Among the “new poor” are the unemployed, immigrants, refugees, displaced persons, etc. Poverty today is caused by many factors: unjust structures (even religious ones), abrupt socio-economic changes, neo-conservative economic policies, imbalance of trade, as well as wars, tribal conflicts, cultural prejudices, and political policies in favor of wealthier nations, etc. Yet, at the same time, some positive things have emerged. A “culture” of solidarity is evident among people of different religious persuasion, and even among those not completely aligned with religious causes. The elimination of poverty has been championed by entertainers like Bono, mega-billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates, and even by political figures like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown of Great Britain, as well as the United Nations, and of course, our own Vincentian Family worldwide. It seems that the more global poverty becomes, the more global too is the response to eradicate it.

What implications would this new world-order of poverty have on the formation of our candidates and confreres? I can see the following.

 

  • Fundamentally, it is necessary that we allow the needs of the poor to shape our response, and not the other way around, that is, to make their needs fit into our interests. Often, we are confronted with poverty that we least expect. We should allow the spontaneous emergence of such an experience, viewing it from God’s perspective.
  • There is need for sociological, cultural, economic, political framework in order to recognize the new forms of poverty today as they begin to surface; for this, the students have to acquire the skills for historical, socio-cultural, economic-political analysis. There is also need for creativity in our response to poverty.
  • There is also a need for greater awareness of other groups working for the poor, and a sincere willingness to collaborate, network, synchronize with them. This requires a training on how to relate with big corporations, public and private entities, so that our work of advocacy on behalf of the poor will not be hindered by timidity or ignorance of secular matters and procedures. There should also be the willingness to work with them, availing of their expertise, especially in matters where we ourselves are found wanting.
  • We need to train our members to acquire a global perspective in their approach to poverty. Even as we insist on direct contact with the poor, we should also impart to our candidates a worldview that goes beyond the demands of local communities and provinces. A global outlook in an increasingly small world is certainly of great benefit to those who would dare to speak for the majority of people who are poor.

In other words, a formation program ready to respond to the contemporary situation of poverty needs to incorporate other disciplines like sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, etc. (C.2) the better to grasp the totality of the poor’s predicament in this highly globalized world.

3.2 “Christ, evangelizing”

 

For us in the Congregation, Christ remains the Rule of the Mission (SV XII, 130). Happily there is also in the world today a widespread interest in the person and message of Jesus, as a charismatic figure, a prophetic model, deeply human, etc. But along with the interest are tendencies to spiritualize, romanticize, humanize excessively, etc., Jesus in such a way as to compromise the real figure of Jesus in the Gospels and in Christian tradition. There is also the challenge of affirming Christ’s distinctiveness in relation to the other religions, particularly here in Asia, and their foundational personalities.

I see several implications of this on the way we form our future missionaries.

 

  • There is need to deepen our understanding and appreciation of Christ as the central figure in the Congregation, whose footsteps we follow in evangelizing the poor. It is not enough to follow habitual patterns of prayer, meditation, and reflection. We need to continually insist on discovering Christ in our experience with the poor, allowing him to reveal to us the means through which we bring the message of the Gospel to them. After such a personal encounter, we can better proclaim that “Jesus Christ is the Savior and Fullness of Life” (EN 22).
  • Appreciation of Christ implies a well-grounded knowledge of the Scriptures and Christology. Therefore, there is need to strengthen our biblical courses and to underscore, in the course on Christology, the distinctively Vincentian perspective on Christ.
  • The way St. Vincent discovered Christ in the poor and the poor in Christ is a significant contribution to Christian spirituality. We need to insist on this, helping our students discover deeply the gift of mutual evangelization with the poor.
  • Lastly, we need to be convinced that above all our “Mission” is primarily Christ’s mission. We are being called to participate in it. This has repercussions on the way we view successes and failures in it.

In short, if Christ were to remain the measure of what it means for us to be missionaries in the truest sense, we need to encounter him personally, allow him to reveal to us the depth of his message, to proclaim him steadfastly in our preaching and life, and align our pastoral strategies to his ways.

 

3.3 “Following Christ”

 

In the past, the following of Christ in the Congregation came to be interpreted as the individual task of seeking one’s perfection or working towards holiness. Often, this stress on the personal and individual tended to overshadow, if not dislodge, the authentically communitarian dimension of our vocation to follow Christ’s footsteps in the service of the poor, such that when a choice is to be made between the two, often the interests of the individual would prevail. In many groups that work for the poor, there is always the perennial temptation to do it single-handedly, or according to one’s own strategies, without due regard to the benefits of collaboration. There is certainly need for personal motivation and discipline in responding to our “Mission.” But there is also the most important element of community response, sense of communion with others, which characterized both Jesus’ ways – he gathered a group of disciples to help him proclaim the message of God’s kingdom – and Vincent’s methods and processes. Vincent was a loyal son of the Church and he wanted his followers to be equally loyal children of the Church, able to work with others in the fulfillment of their “Mission.”

All this would imply that we need to emphasize the following in our formation program:

 

  • We need to look at the virtues and vows from a new light, that is, the light of the Mission as understood today.[36] They are not to be seen only from the perspective of a general spiritual theology but most importantly from a decidedly Vincentian focus. This calls for a serious study on how the virtues and vows relate to the evangelization of the poor in a direct way, in other words, the pastoral implications of our vows and virtues.
  • There is need to strengthen in our candidates the sense of being loyal to the Church, but not in the form of unthinking obedience to the Magisterium. We should consider ourselves as legitimate partners with the authorities in the Church who also seek respond to God’s call to bring the Gospel to all peoples, especially the poor. From St. Vincent who zealously defended the integrity of the Church and promoted the reform initiatives of the Council of Trent we can learn to uphold the principles and values that underlie Church actions and projects.
  • A deep ecclesiological sense lies at the very foundation for collaboration. There is need to make our students realize the irreplaceable role of the laity, and especially the members of the Vincentian Family, in the fulfillment of our “Mission.” Collaboration is not a suggestion but an imperative. The ability to work as part of a team, even with non-religious and secular groups, is a quality that we expect from all “missionaries.”

 

4. Worldwide C.M. Mission and Asia-Pacific

 

In this last part of my conference, I will attempt to look at “Mission” from the perspective of the Provinces of Asia-Pacific but in relation to the worldwide situation of the Congregation. Here I shall try to respond to the following questions:

 

  • Where do the Asia-Pacific Provinces fit in the context of the entire Congregation of the Mission throughout the world?
  • What role is it expected to play in the coming years?
  • What are the possible trends and perspectives that may affect, positively or otherwise, this role? What developments should we take note of?
  • What are implications of all this on the formation of our confreres and candidates? What do we need to do in order to prepare ourselves for the future?

 

In tackling these questions, I will analyze data concerning the Congregation, and particularly in Asia-Pacific; next, I will discuss briefly some realities that impinge on the structure of the future; and then, I shall draw the implications of these data for APVC in general and for formation in particular.

 

4.1 The CM Worldwide and Asia Pacific Provinces

 

In the last General Assembly (2004), the then Secretary-General presented figures about the membership in the Congregation. I present three tables that will be of interest to us: one, the number of incorporated members by regions, from 1997 to 2003; the second, for 1997 and 2003, the percentage of incorporated members; and the third, the number of admitted members, also by regions, for 1997 and 2003.[37]

 

Table 1

Incorporated Members, Regions, 1997-2003

 

Year

Africa

Asia.Pac.

USA

Lat. Amer.

Europe

TOTAL

1997

196

464

494

806

1593

3553

1998

244

493

464

818

1534

3553

1999

260

449

449

824

1549

3530

2000

276

405

437

805

1499

3422

2001

260

487

422

815

1477

3461

2002

269

479

406

807

1470

3431

2003

270

484

406

800

1473

3433

Table 2

% of Incorporated Members – Regions 1997 & 2003

 

Region

1997

(Number) %

2003

(Number) %

Europe

(1593) 44%

(1473) 43%

Latin America

(806) 23%

(800) 24%

USA

(494) 14%

(406) 12%

Asia-Pacific

(464) 13%

(484) 14%

Africa

(196) 6%

(270) 8%

 

 

Tables 1 and 2 show us the declining trend in Europe and USA in terms of raw numbers and percentage, as well as in Latin America in raw numbers, although not in percentage. The two regions that grew from 1997 to 2003, in raw numbers and percentage are Africa and Asia-Pacific. On these figures, we even have to make some qualifications: of the numbers pertaining to Europe, the Province of Paris counts Vietnam and Cameroon as its regions, when in fact geographically these two pertain to Asia-Pacific and Africa, respectively. Also, the figures for USA include those in Kenya, which is part of the USA Midwest province but is in Africa. Here are the figures for Vietnam and Cameroon at the beginning of 1998 and 2004.

 

1998 2004

Vietnam 14 44

Cameroon 7 18

 

If these figures are included in their respective geographical regions, then the growth of both Asia-Pacific and Africa will be even more pronounced.

This is the recent past and present. Now, let us look at the (probable) future, the figures on the admitted members.

 

 

Table 3

Admitted Members – Regions 1997 & 2003

 

Region

1997

1997

2003

2003

Africa

81

15.00%

177

28.54%

Lat. America

154

29.90%

172

27.74%

USA

8

1.50%

9

1.45%

Asia-Pacific

141

27.37%

160

25-80%

Europe

131

25.40%

102

16.45%

 

515

99%

620

99.98%

 

 

Table 3 shows us also the decline in the number of admitted members for Europe, and the increase in Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and Africa. What is noticeable here is that Europe sharply declined and Latin America, while leading in 1997 with 29.9%, was in 2003 outstripped by Africa who only had 15% in 1997. Asia-Pacific has increased its numbers but declined slightly percentage-wise in relation to the other regions. Again, here we can make the equivalent qualifications in regard to Vietnam and Cameroon. Generally, the figures there would most likely add to the numbers of admitted members in Asia-Pacific and Africa.

It is true that we can make a lot interesting interpretations on these figures, many times to suit our premises. But the main point I wish to get across here is that there is a growing shift from Europe and USA to, first, Latin America (but this has already stabilized and may even be in decline – cf. lesser number of admitted members in 2003), but then, quite increasingly to Asia-Pacific and most of all Africa.

If we consider the median age, we will find out quite quickly that Europe and USA, and even Latin America, are ageing, while Asia-Pacific and Africa are getting younger. According to the 2005 Catalogue, the median age averages in the Regions are as follows:

 

Europe: 60.74

USA: 63.19

Latin America: 53.42

Asia-Pacific: 51.91

Africa: 43.80

 

Again, several qualifications are in order. Europe’s median age average is helped considerably by Vietnam and Cameroon, Asia-Pacific’s high median age in primarily due to Australia, China, and the Province of the Orient.

Once more, these figures show us where the future of the Congregation would be in the next 10 to 20 years. It would not be reading too much into the figures to say that Asia-Pacific and Africa will be the two regions where the Congregation will experience a steady increase in its membership, or at the very least, where more of the younger confreres would be found within the same time span. More so, if in the near future Vietnam becomes part of the Asia-Pacific region of the Congregation and Cameroon that of Africa.

Add to this the fact that, from the point of view of sheer population, China and India are the two most populous countries in the world – more than half of the world’s population live in Asia. Then you see the picture and the conclusion is inexorable.

What implications do these figures have on us and the future? At the very least, one of them is that if the Congregation wants to take care of its future, it better pay attention to Asia-Pacific and Africa in a serious way, or else its future is in jeopardy. This is the most logical implication and something must be done to ensure our future. Now, is there in the Congregation at present a structure or a dynamic that would take care of meeting this future need? I believe there are realities in the way we live in the Congregation that will have an impact, positively or negatively, on our future. Let me now turn to these.

 

4.2 Provincial, Regional, and International Configurations in the Congregation

 

I do not have full proof for this, and I simply go by my own observations in the last several decades on the persistent mind-sets within the Congregation. I mention, first of all, the attitude of provincial autonomy. Prior to the drafting of the present Constitutions, the Congregation had moved from centralized government to provincial autonomy. Probably as a reaction to the excessively centralized structures during the term of Father Etienne (1800s), the Provinces in the Congregation have for the last century or so tried to maintain its autonomy in many areas like its apostolate, finances, even administration. The past Constitution of course gave much power to the Superior General, but in many instances, he was unable to dictate to the Provinces what he wanted them to do. A case in point is the mission to China. At one point, the Provinces of Paris, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Holland and Poland, were sending missionaries there but all independent of one another, administratively and especially financially. For sure, there may have been some advantages to this set-up, but one wonders why these different provinces could not come together and forge a common plan of ministry in the one country in which they were all present. Granted China was simply an overly huge territory and it needed all the missionaries available. But something could have been done to make a concerted effort there from the point of view of the General administration of the Congregation. Perhaps something indeed had been done, but the outcome was all too clear for us to see.

Likewise, a very crucial area of Provincial autonomy is the use of the funds of individual provinces. There seems to be a great deal of difficulty on the part of the Superior General and the General Curia procuring funds from Provinces that have the wherewithal to contribute. In other more centralized Congregations, the funds are at the disposal of the Superior General and his Council, and in the process, needs in particular provinces are met much more quickly (and surely not without much debate too), particularly those for the formation of members. But in the Congregation of the Mission, there is much disparity among Provinces, in terms of financial capability, and other resources, even personnel. Confreres from poorer Provinces, when they come to international meetings, often wonder whether they are members of the same Congregation when they compare pocket-money with those from more capable Provinces.

To meet some of these problems, there have been moves in the last several decades to promote inter-provincial collaboration in formation, finances, administration, personnel, etc. But all these initiatives are still subject to the consent of individual Visitors of particular Provinces. The most that the Superior General can do is to persuade provinces to work together – but still most of it is left to the freedom of the Provinces to undertake common activities and projects. Another attempt to relativize the autonomy of individual Provinces is the promotion of regional conferences of Visitors. Ostensibly, these are meant to be a source of support for the Provinces belonging to the same conference, but one cannot escape the possibility of increased cooperation among them leading to more interdependence in personnel and finances. A still another effort that was talked about is the matter of re-configuration of Provinces. In this, the crux of the debate almost always is provincial autonomy (at least in the sense of the original province). Reconfiguration is a difficult concept to accept primarily because Provinces for such a long time have thought of themselves as independent from the others.

If one tries to analyze the provenance of such an attitude, one perhaps can point to the attitude within the Congregation which respects, unduly or otherwise, the autonomy of each local community. Just as our own mission towards the poor emphasizes direct and concrete contact with the poor, so also in our administration, the more direct it is, the less bureaucratic control from the higher Superiors, the better would each community and Province be. Yet again, another reason for this is the conviction that we are diocesan priests living in community. Somehow the autonomous spirit of the diocesan clergy has rubbed off on us, and for good or ill, many have used and taken advantage of it to protect vested interests. But then again, there could be other reasons for all this. I do not have the time to speculate on these, but what I have offered in the forgoing I trust is enough for our purposes.

When one places all of these present attitudes and realities in the context of the “Mission” we all profess to follow, there emerge certainly a host of things that should be done. For one, we need to go back to the creative dynamic of our “Mission” as both a following of Christ and a reaching out to the poor. We ought to work out the balance between individual concerns and global interests, between tradition and inculturation, etc. We ought to retain the “Mission’s” originality but also promote its prophetic character. We need to keep ourselves rooted to Jesus’ experience but at the same time allow that same experience to spring forth, blossom, and grow in cultures other than our own. Among others, these are the imperatives for our own times that a rediscovery of “Mission” entails.

 

4.3 Challenges and Implications on Formation

 

Since I am speaking to people who would form the future members of the Asia-Pacific region of the Congregation, let me make it very clear that the principal challenge that we face in this region is the future of the Congregation which will be left in our hands very soon. In a way, the mantle of leadership is being passed on from Europe and USA to Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa. The whole world, in fact, is moving in this direction. What are we to do in face of such a daunting challenge? Let me contribute my share of thoughts and suggestions.

 

The Numbers

 

We are of course quite impressed with the numbers that signify growth for both Asia-Pacific and Africa. But a very critical question is the quality of vocations. One may well ask, are the numbers to be depended upon, or are they temporary increases in view of political, economic and cultural factors that make belonging to an international Congregation so attractive to young people? Are we strict enough in our requirements for admission of candidates?

A still more decisive question is, are our formators sufficient in number and properly trained to instill in these numerous candidates the real values and spirit of the Congregation? What is being done to make sure that they continually undergo continuing formation? Are the provinces in Asia-Pacific committed to inter-provincial collaboration in the area of formation so that the students in formation receive an international formation worthy of their future mission?

 

Inculturation

 

In order for the Vincentian charism to take root in Asia-Pacific in a profound way, there is need to address the demands of inculturation. We need to live our Vincentian “Mission” in a new way and in new situations. It will not do to repeat the traditional ways and methods of Europe and America. We need to creatively find a way to make it speak to our poor people in the Asia-Pacific region so that it can be an instrument of the Gospel in changing their lives. The deepening of Vincentian spirituality (as proscribed in C 3.3, 4, 6, 7 and 8) has to take place within the cultures that are endemic to us in Asia-Pacific.

This, of course, implies a great deal in the area of formation. It supposes that we know our cultures, its values and ways, in order to be able to receive the Gospel in a new environment. This presumes exposure to cultural anthropology and other social sciences that will assist us in understanding local mores and beliefs.

 

Sense of Internationality

 

Even as take into serious consideration the situation and needs of Asia-Pacific, we need never lose the sense of internationality of the Congregation, by which we feel ourselves responsible for the “Mission” not only in our part of the world but in all parts of the world where there are poor people. We also have serious obligations to the ageing Provinces who in one way or another have been a source of support to the initial years of our own Provinces. But more than just the motivation of paying back past favors, we need to look at this with a new sense of being an international community, united in the one “Mission” to which all of us are called.

This sense of internationality implies several attitudes in us. There should be a missionary readiness to be assigned to other places, looking at this as an opportunity of bringing God’s good news to places where there is need. In view of this, learning other languages and studying other cultures are imperative from which we cannot afford to shirk. The ability to speak and understand different major languages will be of great value in international conferences since it will promote mutual understanding and communion.

 

Leadership

 

As I mentioned above, the mantle of leadership is now being passed on to the younger provinces and confreres. What is being done to prepare them for this responsibility? This is an important challenge that needs to be met immediately because the preparation of future leaders takes time. Ideally, the best leaders are those that have the widest, diverse, deepest experience. Getting professional degrees takes time, and so does maturity in making decisions. A course on leadership should be established so that the future of the Congregation could be place in capable hands.

Among the important questions that Asia-Pacific, in its exercise of leadership in the Congregation, is this: does the Congregation have a plan for its role in China and India? What needs to be done in preparation for this?

 

Conclusion

 

In this extended conference I have tried to review the understanding of our “Mission,” and to show the urgency of meeting the challenges that the future holds before us, in Asia-Pacific as well as throughout the whole Congregation, in order to live our “Mission” as sons of St. Vincent and followers of Christ, the Evangelizer of the poor. I have also attempted to spell out the implications that all of this would have on our formation programs and particularly on your task as formators. More of course could be said about this topic, and you probably have other opinions on the matter. It would be to our great benefit if we are able to discuss the things I brought up as openly and courageously as possible.

As I end, I would like to leave you with a quote from St. Vincent himself.

 

“Oh! How happy will they be who can repeat the hour of their death, those beautiful words of our Lord: ‘Evangelizare pauperibus misit me.? Behold, my Brethren, how the chief thing in our Lord’s eyes was to work for the poor! When He went to others, it was only just as He happened to be going on His way. But woe also to us if we become cowardly in the fulfillment of the obligations we are under to succor poor souls! For we gave ourselves to God for that purpose and He relies on us.” [38]

 


[1] I remember an incident when being a member of the Congregation of the Mission was such a badge of honor. In my first visit to the diocese of Incheon in South Korea, the local Ordinary, Maryknoll Bishop McNaughton, was effusive in his praise for the Congregation. He said, in so many words, “it would be an honor for the diocese of Incheon to receive the great Congregation of the Mission of the great St. Vincent de Paul.”

 

[2] Compare these with the data presented in the 2004 General Assembly. Cf. J.M. Nieto, “Life Behind the Numbers: Data Concerning the Reality of the Congregation” in Vincentiana 48 (2004) 267-279, 272-273. The number (19) and variety of apostolates in which we in the Congregation are engaged enable us to appreciate the importance of a question like, what makes us missionary, our work or our spirit?

[3] It is interesting to note that two important “compendiums” of Vincentian topics do not include an article specifically on the “Mission”. They only have articles on missions, understood as popular missions or ad Gentes. Cf. Luigi Mezzadri, Dizionario Storico Spirituale Vincenziano, Roma, CLV, 2003, and Diccionario de Espiritualidad Vicenciana, Salamanca, CEME, 1995.

[4] P. Coste was not aware of the documentation for this approbation. For the details summarized here, see See C. Braga, “The Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission, Historical Notes” in Vincentiana 44 (2000) 289-307, 291.291.

 

[5] P. Coste, St. Vincent de Paul, Correspondences, Conferences, Documents (new English Translation) I, 41-42. (Henceforth, reference to this will be abbreviated to CCD.)

 

[6] A revised formulation of the letter came out several months later, which was sent by the Nuncio to the Cardinal-Prefect of the Propaganda on August 15, 1628. See, P. Coste, CCD, I, 47-53.

[7] “Remember … that we live in Jesus Christ by the death of Jesus Christ, and that we ought to die in Jesus Christ by the life of Jesus Christ, and that our life ought to be hidden in Jesus Christ and full of Jesus Christ, and that in order to die like Jesus Christ, we ought to live like Jesus Christ.” (SV I, 295.)

[8] Although the present Constitutions were drawn up in the General Assembly of 1980, they were actually approved by the Holy See on 29 June 1984, published on 27 September 1984, and came into force on 25 January 1985. Hence the date I opted to identify these Constitutions is 1985, even though in later publications, notably in Vincentiana 2000, the reference is to the 1980 Constitutions.

[9] As Braga has noted, a group of documents came to be known as “Constitutiones majores” or “Constitutiones quae Superiores Generalem totiusque Congregationis gubernationem spectant”. These, and the Common Rules, practically guided the life of the Congregation until 1954 when the so-called Constitutions of Pius XII came to be adopted. Braga, op. cit., 301.305.

 

[10] Here I rely especially on Antonio Elduayen’s article entitled “Identity of the Congregation According to Articles 1-9 of the Constitutions of 1980”. Vincentiana 44 (2000) 308-319.

 

[11] See Braga, 304. Also, Elduayen, 310, footnote 8.

 

[12] Elduayen, 312-314.

[13] There are several good commentaries on the present Constitutions, particularly the issue in Vincentiana to mark the 20th anniversary of the Constitutions and Statutes. Cf. Vincentiana 44 (2000) 357-480. See also M. Perez Flores and A. Orcajo, El camino de San Vicente es nuestro camino, Salamanca, 1986, especially on our topic, 49-63. See also, R. Maloney, “Espíritu proprio” in Diccionario de la Espiritualidad Vicenciana, 204-207.

[14] Congregation of the Mission, 37th General Assembly, Unum Corpus, Unus Spiritus in Christo: Lines of Action for the Congregation of the Mission 1986.1992, Final Document, in Vincentiana 30 (1986) 569-605, 572.

 

[15] Vincentiana 30 (1986) 573.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 574-577.

[19] Ibid., 578-580.

[20] Ibid., 579.

[21] Ibid., 581-584.

[22] Ibid., 586.

[23] Vincentiana 27 (1983) 224-280. Henceforth to be referred to as RFIS.

 

[24] Ibid., 234.

[25] Ibid., 235.

[26] Vincentiana 32 (1988) 155-238. Henceforth to be referred to as RFMS.

 

[27] 37th General Assembly, Lines of Action 1986.1992), 31 1º . Vincentiana 30 (1986) 583.

.

[28] Vincentiana 32 (1988) 157.

[29] RFMS, 9.

[30] Vincentiana 46 (2002) 1-54. References to this Ratio (RM) will be by page number in the Vincentiana issue.

 

[31] Ibid., 9. The RM makes use of the framework and ideas of major Church documents on “Mission”, namely, Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) and John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio (1990). This last document is interesting in itself because it considers mission from a perspective similar to what we have in the CR and in the 1985 Constitutions and Statutes. An example of this is the assertion that mission is first of all inward-directed (i.e., “striving for personal holiness”) before it becomes other or outside-directed. Cf. Redemptoris Missio .

 

[32] Ibid., 15.

[33] “This creates a dynamism which enables God’s Word to transform the culture by promoting values already present in it, while also questioning what is not of God within a culture and what violates the human person.” Ibid., 18.

 

[34] Ibid., 15-20. A useful summary of how “mission” can be seen today is found in R. Maloney, He Hears the Cry of the Poor, New York, 1995. See especially pp. 118-119, and the reference to Amaladoss’ Religious in Mission.

 

[35] The 39th General Assembly of 1998 devoted time for discussion on this. Cf. Vincentiana 42 (1998) 387f.

[36] Several studies on these have been made. Cf. “Instruction on the Vows” in Vincentiana 40 (1996) 1-68. See also, R. Maloney, and other authors in the different languages. It is good to know also that among the priorities of the present Superior General, the deepening of our appreciation of the Vincentian virtues and vows occupy an important place.

[37] Vincentiana 48 (2004) 267-279, 271 and 278.

[38] “Repetition of Prayer” of October 25, 1943. The English translation of this conference (found in P. Coste, X1) is from J. Leonard (trans.), Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, Philadelphia, 1963, 137.

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