by John Wijngaards, Millhilliana 29 (1977) pp. 4-15

The success or failure of the missionary apostolate in the year 2000 will depend to a great extent on decisions taken today. The process of recruiting new personnel, of forming them and giving them specialised training takes 15 to 20 years. The effective trans­fer of focus on new demands requires at least the same period of time. Missionary Societies like Mill Hill resemble locomotives that run on tracks laid by a previous generation. The adjustment of goals and means cannot be done without a fair amount of laborious dismantling and patient building up. A railway net cannot be shifted overnight. Nor can a complex organisation like ours be geared to new demands within a few years. To meet the challenge of 2000 or later, we will have to begin restructuring in 1977 itself.

There is all the more reason for examining the future of the missionary situation because of a conviction in some quarters that the missionary era has passed and that there is no future for “mission work” in the traditional sense of the term. In the past centuries, the missionary apostolate existed parallel with colonial expansion by Europe and America. The independence gained by the Third-World countries in the last two decades has led to political barriers that are hard to surmount. More than once it brought on the expulsion of missionaries. In some countries the Local Church finds the presence of hard-headed Western mis­sionaries irksome, with the result that the latter feel they are no longer welcome. The religious situation in the West, the lapse of large numbers from the Church and the drop in vocations, have shown that Europe and America too need to be evangelised. In the light of all these developments, the legitimate question arises: Will there still be “foreign missions” in the year 2000? If so, how should we visualise this missionary task of the future?

It will not be possible to answer this question apodictically. Crabs walk backwards. Their eyes scan, not the place they are moving towards, but the path they have just walked on. Man is forced to move through time in much the same way. He can fasten his eyes on past events, he can only guess about the future. It is as if we are standing in a river with our back towards the stream. While we can observe what flows past us and what is carried downstream into the future ‘‘head on”.

However, a good guess will bring us further than a “hit-and- miss” approach. In the secular world, “Futurology” has now acquired a reputable status. This new science tries to forecast the technique we will try to put together what would seem to be inevitable developments in the years to come, and derive conclusions from them for the missionary apostolate. The facts at hand can indeed be the reliable basis for prognosis, as far as I can judge. But the limitations of the exercise should always be kept in mind. If it is true that every historian writes as “a prophet looking backwards” (Schlegel), it is even more true that a futurologist remains an historian even though he speaks about the future.

If today’s trends do not deceive us, they indicate that we should expect for 2000 A.D.:

aggravated economic stress;

accelerated metropolis formation;

intensified religious search.

My analysis will be based on these three indicators.

Aggravated Economic Stress

The population in the world is increasing rapidly. Although estimates vary, it is quite clear that by the year 2000 the population of the world will have risen to a minimum of 6,130 million. The countries of the Third World, which numbered 2,510 million in 1970, will then have 4,625 million, thus constituting 75.5% of the whole world population. In the year 2000, out of every 100 in­habitants of the world, 7 will come from South America, 9 from Canada and the USA, 12 from Africa, 14 from Europe and the USSR, and 56 from Asia.

The world is aware of this problem and its threats. The anxiety of scientists led to the publication of the well-known Report by the “Club of Rome” in 1972. Unless completely new sources of energy are found, the present world order will collapse within a reason- ably short time by the depletion of raw materials, pollution, and insufficient food production. Though some of the conclusions of the “Club of Rome” have been criticised and modified in sub­sequent years, its basic tenets remain valid. Many Governments, also of developing countries, have initiated drastic measures to curtail population growth. However, even if such efforts were to prove successful – and success has been severely limited so far – it would not stop the population of the world doubling in the next 35 years, nor would it adequately answer the problem of ever- increasing shortage of food and raw materials.

Economists have calculated that by the year 2000, food, water and energy need to be doubled to maintain the present standard of living in most countries. The less developed countries, which are sadly falling behind in these commodities even now, will be the bigger losers. At present capitalist countries, numbering only 18% of the world, consume 68% of the nine major mineral ores. The Third-World countries which, without China, account for half the world’s population consume only 6% of the same natural re- sources.

The inequality between poor and rich countries increases as time goes on. The less developed countries have their share of economic progress, but the gain is partly swallowed up by the increase in population and partly annulled by the economic dependence on the stronger industrial nations. In 1970, the per capita Gross National Product for Europe and the USA was $3,300; for the less developed countries, $340. The gap which had been 3 to 1 in 1870 had thus grown to 10 to 1 in 1970 and will probably figure as 15 to 1 in 2000.

Mssive famines have been forecast by experts. Since 1960, the FAO reports annually a relative diminution of food production which decreases at 2% a year. The drought of 1973 and 1974 has given us a foretaste as to what will happen when the world food- stocks do not match the need.

Unemployment, too, will grow ever larger as a major world problem. Basing oneself on calculations made by ILO, manpower in the world will increase by 65% between 1970 and 2000. This will mean that an additional 84 million will seek work in South America, 110 million in Africa, and 578 million in Asia. As it is, job opportunities are very insufficient in Third-World countries. In the Philippines, for instance, 9% of the working population is unemployed and 12Vi% under-employed. But job opportunity will not increase on a par with the working population. In Col­umbia, from 1970 to 2000, the working population will increase from 6.5% to 16%, while job vacancies will increase only from 5% to 10%. Unemployment for many millions seems thus unavoidable and, given the lack of social provisions in the poorer countries, its effects are disastrous for the families concerned.

It is safe to predict that by the year 2000 the world will see more misery, more destitution, more famine, more social oppression than it sees now. It is a frightening prospect. While numbers and figures help us to understand the size of the problem, they should not make us lose sight of the horrendous human suffering implied.

The Central Aid Commission of India calculated in 1974 that the minimal needs of an ordinary person per day are: 420 gr of rice or grain, 80 gr of vegetables, 40 gr of sugar, 100 cc of milk and 40 cc of oil. According to the prices then pre­valent in India, this would require an income of Rupees 1.25 a day. They called this amount the “poverty line”. Mr Mohan Dharia, then minister of planning, told the House of Parliament in Delhi in 1974 that two-thirds of the whole population had fallen below the poverty line, and that the bottom 200 million had no more than half a Rupee spending power a day! If such are the conditions obtaining now among many millions of people, it is not difficult to visualise the economic stress in the year 2000, when the situation will have aggravated for many countries.

Recommended Reading on the Section

  1. McCormack, The Population Problem, New York 1970.
  2. BAIROCH, Diagnostic de l’évolution économique du Tiers Monde 1900-1968, Paris 1969.
  3. BAIROCH, Les écarts des niveaux de développement écono­mique entre pays développés et sous-développés de 1770 à 2000, in Revue Tiers Monde, 12, (1971), pages. 497 ff.
  4. R. EHRLICH, The Population Bomb, New York 1971.
  5. L. MEADOWS & Al., The Limits to Growth, Washington, Potomac Assoc. 1972 (known as the “First Club of Rome Re­port”).
  6. BALASURIYA, The Church and the Asian Revolution, in The Outlook 13 (1972) 53-55, 61.

Anon., “J’ai entendu les cris de mon peuple”, document published by Bishops and Religious of N.E. Brazil on 6 May 1973. French Translation by Entraide et Fraternité, Brussels.

  1. MINHAS, Planning and the Poor, New Delhi 1974.

Anon., “Croissance économique, civilisation, évangile. Pour une reflexion chrétienne sur la crise actuelle ”, Paris 1976. Docu­ment published by the Social Commission of the French Bishops’ Conference.

Accelerated Metropolis Formation

Most of the less developed countries still are predominantly rural in character. 80% of India’s 600 million inhabitants live in approximately 550,000 villages. But urbanisation is rapidly gaining ground everywhere. At present, of the 127 major cities with over a million inhabitants in the world, half are found in the Third World. Of the five largest “giant” cities with over 9 million in­habitants, four lie in Asia: Tokyo, Shanghai, Peking and Calcutta. In many parts of Asia, clusters of cities of the middle category (100,000 – 1,000,000) are mushrooming so fast that maps need to be brought up to date from month to month. In general, it can be foreseen that a large share of the massive increase in population will shift to the urban areas. While by the year 2000 the increase in the country areas can be forecast to come to 50%, the increase in urban areas will amount to 250%.

This trend can even be observed in Africa even though it is less densely populated (12 persons per sq. km) than Asia (76 per sq. km; Japan 283 per sq. km). Africa now has one city of 5 million, Cairo, and three surpassing the million mark: Casablanca, Kinshasa, Johannesburg. The rate of urbanisation on the West Coast can be read from these figures that describe the increase between 1950 and 1970:

Liberia                                 from  5% to 30%

Ivory Coast                          from  8% to 29%

Ghana                                  from   14% to 34%

Central African Republic from     7% to 24%

Zaire                                   from 16% to 39%.

Rapid urbanisation of this kind brings social stresses of its own. Shanty towns and slums are its inescapable consequence. To accommodate the new intake, 1.4 billion houses will need to be built in urban areas by the year 2000. Given the financial stress forecast in the previous section, most countries will not be able to meet the demands of such a building programme. The resulting human chaos can hardly be imagined. If John Milton in the seventeenth century complained about the “populous city, where houses thick and sewers annoy the air” (Paradise Lost, book 9, 1. 445), he would be lost for words if he were to see the jungle of dilapidated concrete structures, mud-walled houses, cloth- covered shelters, arches of bridges or upturned sewage pipes that accommodate hundreds of thousands on the outskirts of cities in the Third World. This picture is not likely to improve in the coming years.

When a society is urbanised in the modem sense of the term, much more happens than that people live more closely together in residential places. The whole structure of society is changed. To understand the difference, we should analyse relationships in a traditional small township and a modem city. In the traditional village or town, people grew up as members of recognised families which in turn formed part of the whole community. Even if people exercised different professions, every face had a name and every transaction took place in a Personal encounter. In a “metropolis” on the other hand, people are thrown together in a kind of hectic, impersonal proximity.

To take the typical example of the Indonesian village boy who has managed to get a job in Djakarta. He has rented a room in a shabby, five-storey tenement house that he shares with numerous other families and people he neither knows nor even meets. On his way to and from work, he joins the wild stream of pedestrians on the Street or jostles with the other passengers for a place on the over-crowded buses. In his office it is his work that comes first, friendship last. Of course if he is lucky he will find some people to relate to in a more human fashion: a neighbour at home, a colleague at work, or a waitress in the eat-shop where he takes his lunch. But most of his relationships will have become functional.  People are no longer known by name to him but have short dealings with him as a co-passenger, a ticket inspector, an employer, a shopkeeper, a policeman . . . From being a brother in a community of family and friends, he has become a nameless citizen in a complex world of functional relationships.

Much has been written about the many aspects of metropolis life, its basic motivation of work, success and achievement; its need for constant adjustment and adaptation in the individual; its secular philosophy of life and pragmatic ethics; its tendency to choke people by the lack of space to live, to think or to be oneself. One factor I would like to highlight here is the paramount im­portance to be attributed to the mass media of communication. Whereas face-to-face communication seems almost doomed to degenerate as a functional interaction, an unprecedented, intense process of communication within society is maintained by press, radio and television. The urban man, who may not have met anyone personally during the day, may feel deeply involved with others through reading his newspaper or watching a documentary film. The media play an amazingly vital role in the metropolis. They may provide a substitute for human relationships, an escape, or a tool of tyranny. They can equally well offer the positive means for society’s evaluation of itself and readjustment to new responsibilities.

Life in a metropolis destroys the sociological base on which people’s religion was grounded. By and large there is a decline in organised religious life. Church structures often are of a traditional rural type and do not fit easily into an urbanised setting. More- over, urban man tends to rebel against clericalism and authoritarianism; he will experience the Church as an out-dated institu­tion that tries to maintain the status quo. The metropolis tends to carry many unequal groups in its bosom: on the one side of the scale one finds the urban proletariat for whom survival and not religion is relevant and who find themselves ill at home in a “middle-class” Church; on the other side there is the social aristocracy, an intellectual elite that is satisfied with a secular, agnostic, often a-moral view of life. Pastoral apostolate and evangelisation in such a complex ambience present the Church with many unprecedented challenges.

Recommended Reading on this Section

  1. N. EISENSTADT, Modernization: Protest and Change, Engle­wood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall, 1966.
  2. N. SRINIVAS, Social Change in Modem India, Bombay, Orient Longman, 1966.
  3. MYRDAL, Asian Drama. An Enquiry into the Poverty of Nations, 1-3, New York, Random House, 1968.
  4. JUPPENLATZ, Cities in Transformation. The Urban Squatter Problems of the Developing World, Queensland, U.Q.P., 1970.
  5. G. McGee, The Urbanisation Process in the Third World, Explorations in Search of a Theory, London, Bell, 1971.

WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, “Report from West African Church Conference on Science, Technology and the Future of Man and Society, Accra 1972”, in The Ecumenical Review, July 1972.

  1. SULLIVAN, “Urban Apostolate and the Missions”- in The Outlook 13 (1973), pages 130-137, 139-143.
  2. HOUTART, Religion and Ideology in Sri Lanka, Bangalore TPI 1974.
  3. GROOT, African Lakeside Town. A Study of Urbanization in Western Kenya with particular reference to Religion, Rome, P.U.G., 1975.

Intensified Religious Search

The available data permit us to predict that secularism will con­tinue to grow in the next twenty to thirty years. The progressive slide to atheism and agnosticism among youth in most countries proves a tangible indicator for this. In 1970, the proportion of ^ professed atheists among youth in France had risen to 24%, among university students to 37%. In Sweden, where secularism developed more rapidly, the same figures are 46% and 59% respectively. Through

the modernisation of life, more and more people are weaned from the traditional religious beliefs they had. More and more people tend to become sceptical about the super-natural, humanistic in ethics and pragmatic in viewing the meaning of their lives.

The outcome of this development need not be entirely negative for the Church and the Gospel. A “secular” concept of life can, paradoxically, form the basis for a very deep religious conviction. Secularism rejects superstition, magic, mythological religion and ail idolatry. In this way it can prove itself an excellent preparation for the Gospel message, which requires that we renounce such man-made religious aberrations. But to make secular-minded, modem man feel- at- home in the Church, the Church will need to undergo a process of rigorous self-purification. Whatever is human in institutions, traditions, moral practices, liturgical usage and ways of speaking, has to be clearly recognised as such and laid aside if it proves an obstacle. The Church will have to live more clearly such “secular” human values as the equality of ail human persons and the freedom and dignity of each individual. The Church will have to join hands with all those who are of good will in whatever it has in common with them. The efforts to reform the Church along these lines, initiated by Vatican II and enthusiastically taken up in many parts of the world, are sure to be intensified in the coming decade

The break-down of traditional religious beliefs under the hammer of secularism leaves an ever-widening religious void in the hearts of men. This has given rise to the popularity of many forms of pseudo-religion. Astrology, palmistry, and fortune-telling are rife. Secret societies that practise “Spiritism”, witchcraft or even the cult of Satan, gather in the homes of respectable citizens. Many others seek fulfilment in oriental forms of prayer. Zen Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, the Divine Light Mission, the Hare Krishna Movement and Yoga have spread throughout the West. Similar tendencies are at work among the urban masses of the Third Word. Unless dramatic changes were to take place, we may expect that in the coming years, too, there will be a growing hunger for spiritual experiences, for methods of withdrawal, inner concentration and prayer of silence.

As far as the Church is concerned, we can foresee a strong development towards pluralism in liturgical rites, ministries, church organisations and even theology. This development is a reaction against the exaggerated centralisation of the past, a reaction which led to the re-affirmation of Bishops’ Conferences as point of gravity in the organisation of the Church. Another reason is the increased national consciousness in countries of the Third World, awakened by the movement towards independence and strengthened in the Church through the establishment of local hierarchies.  In the years to come, we may expect an ever-heavier emphasis on what is specific in the cultural heritage, the religious approach and the political realities of the local Church. Strong indications in this direction can be found in all continents:

* At the Theological Week in Kinshasa, July 23-28 1973, the need for Africanisation was acknowledged to be the most important question’ facing the Church in Zaire and in Africa as a whole. African theological thought needs to be promoted. Forms of consecrated life more meaningful to the African spirit need to be created. Cardinal Malula, Archbishop of Kinshasa, stated: “Our own African Churches will never really and truly be our own unless they are in possession of their own means of salvation. Among these means, ministries properly adapted to the needs of our Churches must be mentioned”.

* The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, meeting for the first time in October 1974 at Taipei, issued the following statement: “In order to proclaim the Gospel in Asia today, we must authentically embody the message of Christ in the lives and mentalities of our people. Therefore, at this moment of history, the primary objective of our task of evangelisation is to construct a truly local Church. For the local Church is the realisation and incarnation of the Body of Christ in a given people, period and place . . . The local Church is a church embodied in a people, i.e., native and acculturated. And concretely this means a Church full of humility and love, in continual dialogue with the living traditions, cultures, re­ligions, in short, with ail the realities of the life of the people within which it is rooted and whose historical heritage and present life it is happy to share. The local Church wants to share in anything that genuinely belongs to the people: its conceptions, values, aspirations, thoughts, language, songs and art. It even goes to the point of espousing its frailties and assuming its shortcomings in order to cure them’’.

* In Latin America, the Church has repeatedly identified itself with the struggle for liberation of the oppressed masses. The meeting of ail the Bishops at Medellin, Colombia, in 1968 called for an inner re-structuring of the Church to respond to the need of promoting peace and justice throughout the continent. The theme was taken up in many theological publications, pastoral seminars and individual Bishops’ Conferences in the ensuing years. In June 1972, Mgr. F. Pironio, President of the Latin American Confederation of religious, could state that liberation had become the predominant pre-occupation of one of the major currents in the Latin American Church’s thinking.

* The Third-World theologians who met at Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, in August 1976, called for a “situational theology’’. According to them, theology can never be done outside of a particular historical context. “Being more and more aware of the impact of political, social, economic, cultural, racial and religious conditions on theology, we want to analyse the back- ground of our country as one of the reference points for our theological reflection . . . Theology is not neutral. In one sense, every theology is committed in so far as it is obviously conditioned by the socio-cultural context in which it is developed”.

The over-all picture emerging from the above facts and prog­noses would seem to point to a situation in the year 2000 of intensified religious search. A battle will be waged, not so much between organised religions, Churches and sects, but between patterns of thought. Christian theology will be under heavy pressure from all sides. It will perforce have to be bold and creative. There will be an increasing demand for pastors who can bring the simple message of the Gospel in a manner relevant to an urbanised and sophisticated environment.

Recommended Reading on this Section

COX, The Secular City. Secularizsaton and Urbanization in Theological Perspective, London, SCM Press, 1965.

  1. COX, The Seduction of the Spirit, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1973.

LATIN AMERICAN BISHOPS: Promocion humana: La Paz. Conclusiones de la 2da Conferencia General del Episcopado Latinoamericano, Medellin 1968.

Anon., “Western Youth and the Future of the Church” in Pro Mundi Vita 33 (1970).

  1. METZNER, Maps of Consciousness, New York, MacMillan,F. PIRONIO, “Teologia de la liberacion”, Session on Latin America organised by the Latin-American Confederation of Religious, Paris, June 1972.

Anon., “The Population Explosion and the Future of the Church”, Pro Mundi Vita 40 (1972).

  1. L. BERGER, The Social Reality of Religion, Penguin 1973 (1967).

Anon., Ministères et Services dans L’Eglise. Records of the Eighth Theological Week in Kinshasa, 1973.

Anon., Manifest of the Ecumenical Dialogue of Third World Theologians, Dar-es-Salaam1976.

Mission in the Year 2000

If the conjectures of the foregoing sections are warranted, we may make the following observations about mission work in the year 2000:

  1. As far as religion and the Church are concerned, the differ­ence between the West and the Third World will quickly diminish. The mother-daughter relationship existing between Churches will soon be replaced by the concept of Sister-Churches, sharing personnel and resources in co-responsibility and partnership. It should be noted that the trends outlined above, namely, economic stress, metropolis formation and religious search, effect ail countries of the world without exception. Although specific problems will be localised more in one country than in another, the whole world is growing towards a situation where, certainly from a religious point of view, the same problems are found everywhere. In this sense, “mission needs” will be found in every country and “missionary activity” will again résumé its original meaning of “bringing the Gospel message” rather than “planting the Church in another country”.
  2. Yet, the Third World will remain the focus of special mission­ary activity. It will be the part of the world most in need of help in the struggle against poverty, ignorance and oppression. It is here that the transformation of life from village to metropolis will produce the greatest social anguish. It is in the Third World, too, that the Church will have to face the most difficult issues all at once: an adaptation to a more modem way of thinking, as well as integration of local culture and aspirations.
  3. The contribution to be given to our Sister-Churches in the Third World will increasingly have to be of a more specialised nature. Through sheer lack of personnel, some Churches will continue to require the services of ordinary pastors and develop­ment workers. But in most places the demand will be for charisms that are not yet available in the local Church. Some of these will be: preaching religion in a secularised environment, utilising the means of communication in the building up of society and the Church, formation of local catechists, religious and priests, initiating new projects of economic self-help and social liberation, introducing modem techniques such a planning, budgeting and systematic management in Church organisation, introducing forms of specialised apostolate among workers, farmers, youth or college students, encouraging and supporting authentic local theologies with a truly Catholic application of the theological sciences. More than ever such specific contributions will have to be given as real “services”, ministrations which seek to help the recipient, not to aggrandise the giver.
  4. Although the dioceses share in the missionary task, experi­ence over the past ten years has shown that support to Sister-Churches will not be effective if it is organised in a haphazard way. This is all the more so when the services to be rendered will increasingly require specialised knowledge of the situation in the Third World and the means to motivate and prepare such special­ised personnel. This argues to the continued need of missionary Societies like our own. However, it is desirable and unavoidable that Societies like ours be seen more and more as an expression of the missionary commitment of our Home Churches and that this realisation also be expressed in the way in which personnel and resources are channelled to Sister-Churches. Although life-long commitment to the missionary cause may well remain a necessary practical requirement for effective service, it is likely that the Society will function for ever-greater numbers of priests, religious and lay volunteers as a clearing-house for the exchange of person­nel between Sister-Churches.

When Jesus saw the crowds, “He felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd”. It was this that occasioned Him to admonish his disciples to ask the Father to send labourers into his harvest (Mt 9, 36-37). When we think of the countless millions already present or still to be born, who lack the basic necessities of life and who seek frantically for a meaning in their existence, our hearts will be moved with the same apostolic compassion that lies at the root of our missionary vocation. It will prompt us to continue our missionary task in spite of difficulties encountered and to adapt our ministration to the new needs of the future. As in the past, so in the future too, the success of our missionary effort will ultimately be measured only in the light of real service rendered to people, to every brother and sister “for whom Christ died” (1 Cor. 8, 11).

John Wijngaards, M.H.M. Vicar General