1. Finally, the document DP will make its position regarding the two, dialogue and proclamation. Both are elements of mission. They are linked but not interchangeable. Dialogue is not the whole mission of the Church, it does not replace explicit proclamation (see #81-82).
2. Nonetheless the desire to proclaim is still in the spirit of dialogue (#77). Somehow we get the impression that although each has its own approaches and methods, proclamation will still be supported by dialogue. In the “olden times” missionaries just went on proclaiming. The notion of dialogue was not an emphasis. But beginning with Vatican II—and highlighted by Pope JPII in his Redemptoris missio—dialogue has take a more central role in mission.
3. What does it mean to do proclamation in the spirit of dialogue? Yes, we cannot remove the work of proclamation in mission but it must consider the sensibilities of the people whom we encounter (#78). Dialogue is precisely this preparation of getting to know and respect people’s sensibilities.
4. If this looks abstract we can look at how the bishops of Asia apply this. (See the article http://www.jonathantan.org/essays/Missio%20Inter%20Gentes.pdf).
A. The Church in Asia deals with three major areas of Asian reality: religion, culture and poverty. This admits of the fact that the Church in Asia is in a pluralist context. In Asia one of the major issues is dis-harmony among people—disharmony in cultures, in religion and in social integrity. The Church as “sacrament”, following Vatican II, is also sacrament of unity. The Asian bishops see the Church as servicing the needs of the Asian people and helping Asia live in harmony.
B. The Church must really be part of Asia—immersed in Asia. It must be immersed in the pluralism of Asia. In Asia there is also the existence of “fundamentalism”—that is, the rejection of pluralism. There are sectors that try to remove pluralism and impose a vision that is to be norm for all. Asian bishops do not endorse fundamentalism because in fundamentalism there is no room for dialogue.
C. Now, Asian bishops coin a term, “missio inter-gentes”. It is mission among people; in the midst of people. It is mission in solidarity with the Asian people. Ad gentes—which is “to” people—may not be so appropriate for Asia. It gives the impression of a Church going to a people in an institutional and hierarchical way. But remember that before Christianity came to Asia, other religions were already existing. To come to Asia with structural—institutional and hierarchical—presence is aggressive and imposes. Ad gentes is too “one-way”—from Europe to Asia.
D. Ad gentes is uncomfortable with cultural and religious pluralism. European missionaries came to Asia and did verbal proclamation. That was their strategy. Asian pluralism had to give way to an official acceptance of the Church as if pluralism was not that valuable. Pluralism, for the Ad gentes viewpoint, was not seen as part of God’s plan. This was clear especially during the times of exclusivism in mission.
E. Inter-gentes is not taken as an official term in the Church. But Church activities are, hopefully, “inter”. What does it mean to have inter-gentes activities? It means two things: 1. No more Christian domination and 2. Be at home with pluralism. The Church in Asia must be in solidarity with the Asian people—especially the Asian poor. Jesus himself is the model for this. He went into solidarity with humanity.
F. This solidarity of the Church is dialogical. What about proclamation? Proclamation is not given up but it is proclamation “through Christ-like deeds”. To proclaim is do as Christ did: proclaim dialogically. Note how the Asian bishops take the line of the document DP.
G. Proclamation which is dialogical is not confrontational. The former experiences of mission in Asia were marked by confrontation and institutional imposition. Recall what the Spanish and Portuguese missionaries did! The Church today should not add more to the experiences. That’s enough!
H. So when Asian bishops coin the term inter-gentes they refer to dialogical proclamation. Yes, the Church should continue to be a visible sign. This is proclamation. But this visibility should be a solidarity. This is dialogue.
I. Inter-gentes is dialogical: respect of pluralism. In fact, pluralism is not longer an issue. Immerse the Church in Asia. Salvation is embodied in other religions too with the Father and the Holy Spirit at work there too. The worry is not longer about “how many” join the Church. The worry is how the Church helps in servicing the brokenness of Asia. It is alright if the Church stays minority in Asia. Look, even before Christianity came to Asia the Father and the Holy Spirit have been present in it already.
J. See how the Asian Church way can illustrate what the document DP is saying. Dialogue does not replace proclamation yet proclamation is dialogical.
5. Maybe people join the Church. Maybe people are attracted to join but do not join. Maybe people are indifferent. Well, we are tempted to say, “So what”. Of course we desire for people joining. But this is not the crucial focus. The Church will have to continue her task even if “population success” does not happen. This is what the Asian bishops say. The crucial question is the role of the Church in helping a broken world. Maybe through her involvement other people will be incited to raise questions about their lives. Fine. Great. Fantastic. Super. But…
6. The Church herself has her limitations. She too may be questioned (#79). In the encounter with others both members of the Church and members of other religious traditions become companions in the path of all humanity (#79). This reminds us of what Pope Francis said in his audience with people of inter-religious dialogue. Dialogue is a “walking together” with others addressing the major problems facing the world today. Pope JPII calls this a “fraternal path” through which we accompany each other (#79).
7. Having said all this, the document DP still insists on proclamation is a main mission activity of the Church. Remember that it was commanded by Jesus. Make people know the Gospel and invite them to discipleship—in the Church. The final stage of proclamation will be the confession made by others—that they will confess the faith and that they will want to be disciples of Christ.
8. It is interesting to note that the document DP avoids the old term of “Church implantation”. The Church is now characterized more by discipleship.
9. Just take note. In the older times mission was so exclusively proclamation. Now it includes dialogue. By going through dialogue we feel the need to eventually proclaim. Now proclamation even looks differently now. It is not the “preachy” type of doing things. Proclamation is sharing the joy we have in knowing Christ and in following his footsteps. We are so motivated to share our intimacy with Christ (see #83).
10. Pause for a while and this can raise a question for us. How intimate is Christ for us? How real is he for us—for me? The impact of this intimacy is a motivation for me to share.
11. Suddenly, and very impressive on the document, we read that this desire to share is not just our desire. Let us quote directly the document: “It should not be surprising, but quite normal, that the followers of other religions should also desire sincerely to share their faith” (#83). This is so humble and realistic! The document does not work out the response to this question: what about the invitation of other religious traditions to their faith? This is a question that will have to be addressed by a theology of religions, for example or to use a term of Claud Geffré, “theology of religious pluralism”.
12. Meanwhile we, as Christians, stay patient with our mission—both in dialogue and in proclamation. We are called to enter into the mystery of God’s patience. Jesus is our model—and we just do not imitate him, we also keep intimacy with him.
13. In encountering other religions we are invited by the document to:
· —study other religions
14. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit guide us and help us in our mission.