On the evening of October 11, 1962, John XXIII spoke from the heart to the thousands gathered in St Peter’s Square. As the moon shone above, he asked parents to return home and, “give your children a warm hug from the pope”. He spoke of the Council, which he had opened that very morning, as “a new daybreak”, writes John Mansfield Prior SVD in The Good Oil.
He himself knew something we had yet to learn: he had cancer and had just seven months to live. In the evening of his life he bequeathed to us a new dawn: a Church of hope and renewal, a youthful Church about to embark creatively on a new phase in mission.
Lumen gentium (LG), chapter two, images the Church as a pilgrim people inspired by the Spirit, accompanied by the Word, approaching the Abba. We are no static community, nor are we primarily an institution, but rather a humble, joyful, hopeful people on the move. The Church as the pilgrim people of God renewed our relationships with other faith communities, with society, with the poor, and eventually with the earth itself.
Gaudium et spes (GS) famously opens, “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts”.
And this, surely, is where we find the saints of yesteryear and today – among the forgotten, the discarded, the stigmatised, among the fragile and the powerless at the edge of society, whether newly-arrived migrants in nineteenth century outback Australia, or among people living with HIV-AIDS in cities today.
Catholics form less than two per cent of India’s population, yet they run most of the HIV-AIDS clinics throughout that vast sub-continent, as also all over South Saharan Africa. If in former times mission entailed building up educational and health care systems, today it might well entail working outside large institutional structures.
The site remains the same: among those forgotten or discarded. That’s where we encounter Christ and witness to his compassionate justice.
What, then, is new in the mission-vision of Vatican II? The real newness that dawned a new daybreak in mission is surely found in the vision of Ad gentes (AG), chapter one.
Here the pilgrim people of God is placed within a vast, cosmic sweep: “Missionary activity is nothing else, and nothing less, than the manifestation of God’s plan, its epiphany and realisation in the world and in history; that by which God, through mission, clearly brings to its conclusion the history of salvation”. This is new.
FULL STORY A new daybreak in mission (The Good Oil)