John N. M. Wijngaards, M. H. M., and Peter Dirven, M. H. M.

In: Mission in Dialogue, The Sedos Research Seminar on the Future of Mission, Mary Motte and Joseph R. Lang (eds.), Orbis Books, Maryknoll 1982, pp. 317-352.

John N. M. Wijngaards is the Vicar General and Councillor for Home Regions of the Mill Hill Missionaries. He worked in India from 1964 to 1976 where he was professor of Sacred Scripture at St. John’s Regional Seminary, Hyderabad, and a member of several national planning committees for the church in India. He is the author of a number of books and articles on Sacred Scripture. Peter Dirven, a priest of the Mill Hill Society, assisted him in the writing of this paper.

In 1975 two young missionary priests, Michael Cypher and Ivan Betancourt, wrote the following open letter from Honduras:

     We believe that the world can be changed. It can be changed through persons who follow Christ. People need priests to guide them on this road. If you were to decide to respond to this vocation, don’t promise yourself a comfortable life. You will be laughed at, ridiculed, declared daft. You will walk with us to distant mountain villages where the poor are waiting to hear the good news. There you will sow love, justice, and truth in their hearts.

Some who profit from lies and oppression may be displeased at your work. They will attack you, may even try to murder you, as happened to Jesus Christ.

If you are prepared to undertake such a life, join us. We need you as a partner.1

Shortly afterward they took part in a demonstration of agricultural workers. They were arrested and killed.

We begin our reflection with this incident because it touches the heart of what mission is all about. Mission happens where Christ’s disciples bring the good news, where they witness to his truth and his love, where new communities of faith are formed. Mission is a work of the Spirit. Mission arises from being sent as Christ himself was sent. Mission reaches out to people, is concerned with human life, is always a becoming flesh in living men and women. Mission means enthusiasm for Christ and the service of newly discovered brothers and sisters. Mission is first and foremost a spiritual reality, a matter of conviction, a power of the heart.

We remind ourselves of this, right at the beginning. As most of this paper will be concerned with practical considerations, with organization and structure, we might lose sight of its spiritual nature. The perfection of structures, as C. N. Parkinson tells us in one of his inimitable essays, is a symptom of decay. Saint Peter’s at Rome and the monumental Vatican palaces were completed only after the era of the papacy’s real temporal power. The Colonial Office at London had five times more staff in 1954, when the colonial era was virtually at an end, than in 1935 when the British empire flourished. The vitality of an institution is inversely proportionate to the perfection of its planning!2

Yet, plan we must and even such a spiritual reality as mission needs structures. The question is: What structures does it need? And, more specifically: Do missionary institutes, societies exclusively dedicated to missionary work, still have a task in the future? In the past two centuries these institutes have proved themselves effective instruments in channeling men and women to distant posts. Have these instruments now outlived their usefulness? Are new tools required for the church of tomorrow? To borrow from Buddha: Are our missionary institutes rafts we should be prepared to abandon because we have reached the other side of the river?

Fundamental Questions

The history of the last few decades records many factual changes in the third world, that is, in the countries that were considered par excellence the scene of mission. Between 1946 and 1980, seventy-seven of these countries gained independence. In 1945 the United Nations counted sixty-six member states; the present number is over 150. In the church, too, developments in these countries have been spectacular. In 1929 only one in every 150 mission ordinaries was indigenous; now indigenous bishops form 80 percent of the total.

On February 24,1969, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples recognized the new situation officially. In an instruction of that date it laid down new norms concerning the relations between local bishops and missionary institutes. The congregation abrogated the previous arrangement by which certain territories, by the ius commissions, had been entrusted to religious orders or missionary institutes. From now on it was the local bishops’ conferences and the individual bishop of each diocese who were to hold the key position in the organization of personnel. It is the local bishop who draws up an official contract with the missionary institute, which, under the patronage of the Roman Congregation, is then acknowledged as a “man- datum”; before, however, the mandatum is given, the local bishop has to submit to the Holy See in writing the opinion of the episcopal conference about the contract. The local bishop can also admit other institutes without a mandatum and without the obligation of prior consultation with an institute that already possesses a mandatum.3

Able Managers, Poor Mandataries?

From a missionary point of view, the new arrangement was the right one. It was the logical consequence toward which mission had worked from its beginning. It

gave concrete expression to a general realization that the time was ripe in many countries for the local church to take over full responsibility for its own management and future. By acknowledging the central position of the local bishop, the new arrangement both crowned the work of previous missionary effort and laid the foundation of enduring new growth.

However, it cannot be denied that the new situation also presented societies with new problems. First of all, many missionaries were not really prepared for the new servant role expected of them. Cardinal Malula of Kinshasa, Zaire, described the new situation in no uncertain terms:

Missionaries should understand and humbly accept that it is the Africans themselves who in the first place Africanize Christianity. . . . Specifically this means: in the past it was the foreign missionaries who designed, conceived and executed the plans for the pastoral apostolate; now it will be the Africans who design, conceive and execute those pastoral plans. The roles have been reversed.4

The reversal of roles took many missionaries by surprise. In their day they might have been good managers; they certainly felt uneasy as “mandataries.”

In a number of conflicts between local bishops and individual missionaries, matters were more complicated. In some of these instances the missionaries were the wronged party. Superiors of the institutes concerned often were at a loss whether it was their duty to support the prophetic role played by their own members or the official position of the bishop. What should one do if a particular bishop forbids concelebration, or denies his personnel the chance to take part in updating courses? Such differences of opinion, we know, should be resolved by open dialogue between “partners.” The real problem, however, lies deeper. To what extent can a missionary institute insist on demanding a certain church policy or specific mission strategies? If it lays these down as conditions, does it not de facto claim the position of the “stronger partner”? The much-acclaimed withdrawal of the White Fathers from Mozambique, however legitimate in itself, raises questions about the kind of partnership we are in. Is staging a “walkout” the ultimate weapon?5

Another result of the new arrangement, which was not so obvious at the beginning but which becomes clearer day by day, is a disruption in the overall organizing process. In the past the mission areas of the world were roughly divided by Propaganda Fide and apportioned to societies and orders. Whatever the defects of the system, from an organizational point of view it worked extremely well in ensuring that personnel and resources were proportionately spread to all parts of the world. For the societies and orders involved it meant a clear definition of responsibilities; each community could expend its energies and available resources on a well-defined number of territories. The new arrangement has totally upset this overall structure. By making the local churches centers of organization in their own right, a process of decentralization has been begun of which the consequences cannot be gauged.

Acknowledging the central role of the local church was certainly a step forward. But it also created a climate of insecurity. As someone put it facetiously: missionary institutes that once monopolized particular markets and thus could export their

goods (read “personnel”) without restriction, now have to sell their ware to critical customers. And what if it turns out that nobody wants the merchandise?

“Go Home, Missionary

The position of insecurity was strengthened by the repeated call for a moratorium on Western missionaries. For the average missionary who was so sure of being needed and of doing a worthwhile job, nothing could have been more unsettling. But the reasons for making this drastic suggestion were serious enough.

Ivan Illich was one of the first to call for such a moratorium when in a critical article in the magazine America (1967) he expressed misgivings regarding the new missionary concentration on South America. As Illich pointed out, instead of helping the local churches, this influx of European and North American personnel consolidated dependence and stifled real growth. In that same year 220 foreign priests working in Chile wrote an open letter to their bishops in which they expressed the following doubts:

Is our priestly presence in Chile an effective solution or does it delay the solution? Are we solving the problems, or is our presence the reason that the search for and the discovery of the real problems are postponed? What are we really achieving? Suppose that we were to leave the country today, would we not thereby promote the imagination and creative spirit of the national church so that it would look for more authentic and indigenous solutions?6

In 1971 the Reverend John G. Gatu of Kenya, chairman of the General Committee of the All Africa Conference of Churches, made an appeal that received wide publicity: “The problems of Third World churches can only be solved if all missionaries can be withdrawn in order to allow a period of not less than five years for each side to rethink and formulate what is going to be their future relationship.”7 In the next year the World Council of Churches Joint Committee on Ecumenical Sharing of Personnel, meeting at Choully, listed four components of the concept of moratorium:

  1. withdrawal of present and discontinuation of future personnel sent into the service of receiving churches by foreign church agencies;
  2. discontinuation of money given to support churches and their institutions by the same sources;
  3. provision of a reasonable length of time to allow for review, reflection and reassessment regarding the revenues of money and personnel in response to the mission of God in our day and the searching for the selfhood of the church in mission;
  4. seeing anew the living Lord incarnated in the local situation and expressing that lordship without foreign domination.8

At the World Council of Churches Assembly in Bangkok in January 1973 and again at the Assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches at Lusaka in May

1974, the desirability of a “moratorium on missionaries” was once more publicly defended. Working Group 3 at Lusaka stated in their report: “Thus, as a matter of policy, and as the most viable means of giving the African Church the power to perform its mission in the African context, as well as lead our governments and peoples in finding solutions to economic and social dependency, our option has to be a moratorium on the receiving of money and personnel.”9

The Case for Pulling Out

The cat was out of the bag, the floodgates were open. By this time within Catholic circles, too, public discussion flared up. Those familiar with conditions prevailing in many missions recognized from the start that the moratorium idea has its merits. In particular the following facts were noted:

  1. Many missionaries continue to extend Western cultural chauvinism. The process of indigenization and inculturation is greatly hampered by them.
  2. By a kind of theological and ethical imperialism many Western missionaries impede the contextualization of theology in the local churches.
  3. By clinging to traditions of authority Western missionaries often impede the growth of genuine local leadership.
  4. Foreign missionaries generally receive more aid than their indigenous colleagues. Missionaries build up economic systems that contradict the lifestyle of the country and that cannot be continued in the future without dependence on outside help.
  5. The presence of foreign personnel often slows down the recruitment of local leaders. The expulsion of missionaries has at times led to an unprecedented increase in local vocations.

Some advocates of the moratorium went much further by stating that the whole present missionary structure needs to be abolished. They attacked not only the mistaken attitude of individual missionaries, but the system as such. Fabien Eboussi, a Jesuit from the Cameroons, suggested that the missionary effort of the West may at present even function as an escape from its own religious crisis. He said that the present organization of mission is culturally a form of colonialism and therefore a system of violence that can only be terminated by a violent act. “The answer can be short: Europe and America should first convert themselves and the orderly departure of missionaries from Africa should be taken in hand.”10

Even though a vast majority of bishops reaffirmed the need of missionary personnel “for many years to come,” the legitimate questions raised by the discussion left many missionaries wondering.11 And for many others, next to the rational arguments, a new sense of unease, an emotional insecurity was born. Are we really wanted? Is our work as necessary and useful as we pretend it to be? Or are we fooling ourselves? Healthy criticism was often mixed with self-pity, common sense with the childish desire to give up everything. Why be legionaries in a distant land if your services are not appreciated? And also, how long can the battle be fought without reinforcements?

Signs of Impending Death?

In its Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, Vatican II envisaged the possibility, yes even the duty, of terminating religious orders or societies that are judged “not to offer any reasonable hope of further development” (Perfectae Caritatis, no. 21). In a later instruction of Pope Paul VI in 1966 it was made clear that the principal norm for deciding whether a religious institute has hope of further development should lie in its ability to attract new members:

In attempting to reach a decision concerning the suppression of an institute or monastery, the following are the criteria which, taken together, one should retain, after one has taken all the circumstances into consideration: the number of members remains small, even though the institute or monastery has been in existence for many years, candidates have not been forthcoming for a long time past and most members are advanced in years (Ecclesiae Sanctae //, no. 41).

The decline of vocations in the West has seriously affected missionary societies. As a result some societies seem to present precisely the picture outlined in the norms suggested above. They hardly receive any new candidates and the vast majority of their members belong to the higher age brackets. Holland, for example, had 5,570 missionaries out in the field as of January 1,1979 (compared to 8,806 in 1963). Their relative ages were: 7 percent under forty; 38 percent aged forty-one to fifty-four; 32 percent aged fifty-five to sixty-four; 19 percent aged sixty-five to seventy-four; 4 percent over seventy-five. During the 1970s the United States saw a decrease in missionaries abroad of 30 percent, West Germany of 15 percent. The number of Irish missionary personnel for 1979 was 5,613, compared to 7,085 in 1965. Some countries and some societies are doing better than others, but the decline has been felt everywhere.

The shortage of recruits has become another important factor in the critical self-examination that has begun. From a theological point of view J. B. Metz’s book Zeit der Orden ? helped to focus attention on the positive value of dissolving religious orders and societies at the right time:

Our religious orders should cultivate something like an ars moriendi. They should do this not to express resignation, but to witness to the Spirit himself who teaches the art of “letting go” as an element of the topsy-turvy world of evangelical counsels and as a condition of being able to put them into practice. What is at stake here is the “art” of being able to stop and die, not only individually, but also together, as a religious foundation.12

Practical considerations often press for an immediate answer. Is it justified to keep many people involved in recruitment and formation work when the results are so meager? Should one continue to attract personnel for work abroad when the home

church itself is in desperate need of vocations? Is it wise to accept new candidates, knowing that they will be greatly outnumbered by older members in an aging society? Father G. Linssen, Dutch provincial of the Scheut Fathers, put it this way:

If we continue to try and bring young people into our ranks, we cause frustration both in the older members who do not understand the younger ones, and in the young members who can hardly come into their own because the older section of our societies has become too massive. The young people present now have enough problems as it is. In most cases they are not representative and go their own way, more or less apart from or only marginally concerned with, the activities of the society as a whole.13

Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi”?

Missionary societies of our day have to face the fundamental question about their future. Should they be encouraged to continue or should they be helped to die a graceful death? Are not the latest developments—resistance in the local churches and the lack of vocations at home—signs of the Spirit calling for a radical handing over?

It cannot be denied that missionary societies from the West should be prepared to face this question honestly. Preparing the way for others, self-effacement, yielding to successors are essential elements of the missionary task. Even the founders of missionary societies must have realized that the organizations they created had a specific and time-bound purpose. Cardinal Vaughan, the founder of Mill Hill Society, may be taken to speak for them all when he wrote in 1866:

It must ever be borne in mind that a foreign missionary college is, by its very nature, only provisional and introductory; the end to be kept in view being to provide everywhere a good native clergy. … It may be said, therefore, that the duty of a foreign missionary college is to work towards its own extinction, by rendering its own existence superfluous through the formation of a sufficient native clergy.14

Although many of the problems discussed had their roots in earlier decades, it was mainly in the period 1970-80 that the future of missionary societies came to be questioned. It is true that the bulk of missionaries resisted any such idea and probably continues to resist it even today. But minority groups everywhere have started to raise doubts. On the missions it took the form of pushing for a planned phasing-out. At provincial and even general chapters, voices spoke of “bringing the sinking ship to harbor” and “winding up gracefully.” In some countries recruitment is apologetically called “promotion.” Many militant missionaries on home leave were saddened and angered by this malaise, this “sagging of missionary zeal,” this “betrayal of Christ and the gospel.” Prospective candidates for membership were put off by the disagreements and uncertainties, and joined other professions. For missionary societies the era of 1970-80 may truly be characterized as one of confusion, search, malaise, reproach, and self-examination.

Church history reckons in centuries, not in years. It is rare that such a flourishing movement as the missionary institutes should be so radically questioned in so short a time. Most societies are hardly a hundred years old. Their peak of world membership was reached only in 1965. Small wonder that for many the question seems too sudden, too drastic.

In this situation a clear answer is called for. If missionary institutes are to be discontinued, they owe it to the church and to their members willingly to go to the slaughterhouse. For what is the use of a band of Templars when the era of crusades has passed? But if, on the other hand, their work is to be continued, they should be able to do so with joy and conviction. For without motivation and enthusiasm mission work is doomed.

The missionary movement derived its strength from the conviction that mission work was what Christ wanted. The missionary knew he or she was doing a good job and this realization made him or her tenacious and adaptable. Till almost the day they were sent out, most men and women did not know whether they were going to be sent to Arctic regions there to live in igloos and learn Eskimo, or face the sweltering heat and unknown hazards of the African jungle. Some worked with their hands and built up hospitals, schools, churches. Others learned sophisticated skills and became experts in languages and cultures no outsider had ever known before. This sustained and monumental effort of hundreds of thousands of people was made possible by the underlying conviction that it was worth doing, that whatever the final outcome the task deserved sacrifice.

If missionary institutes will no longer serve a purpose in tomorrow’s church, they should be laid to rest with honor. If, however, their usefulness remains, they need to be strengthened and encouraged.

Sociological Analysis

A missionary institute is a subgroup in a large social system. To understand the changes affecting such an institute, we need to analyze its position within the total system, that is, within the world church. That the church functions as a macro social-system can be deduced both from factual observation and from its theological definitions. Pius XI stated: “Three necessary societies exist, which are distinct from one another.. . . Two of these, the family and the civil state, are of the natural order. But the third, namely the Church, is a supernatural society… in which persons, through the rite of baptism, enter the life of divine grace.”15 Leo XIII wrote: “The Church is a perfect society, complete in nature and rites, not less than the civil state.”16 In the words of Vatican II: “This family [the Church] has been constituted and organized as a society in the present world by Christ and provided with means adapted to its visible and social union. Thus the Church, at once a visible organization and a spiritual community, travels the same journey as all mankind and shares the same earthly lot with the world” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 40). The church is also seen to be a social system because it unifies individuals and subgroups toward a common aim through the mechanisms known from other social systems.

The church is certainly a mystery. The sacramental presence of Christ, the action of the Holy Spirit, and internal grace are realities that cannot be observed. In this respect the church is a social system that cannot be fully covered by sociological analysis. On the other hand, because the church is by definition truly incarnate in human realities, it follows that the church is at the same time a social system that will exhibit all the idiosyncrasies of human organizations. Just as a psychiatrist may have valid insights regarding a religious vocation even though some aspects of it may transcend scientific observation, so sociologists can offer reliable insights regarding social changes in the church.

The sociological approach is all the more justified in the particular study we are engaged in now. Because what we are considering is not the nature of the church as a whole but the specific position of missionary institutes within it. The existence of such institutes can in no way be said to be essentially linked to the nature of the church. They are human inventions created at a particular moment in history to respond to a specific challenge. They are not indispensable. They clearly belong to that part of the church’s organization that is human, external, and time-bound. They can rightly be subjected to the scrutiny of the “human” science of sociology.

Approaching the discussion from a sociological point of view will, we hope, also contribute to making it less emotional and subjective. We need to find objective norms for establishing whether missionary institutes will also in the future respond to a real need. The study of comparative social processes can be very helpful indeed. When the coal pits in Holland were closed and people switched to natural gas and electricity for heating, some professions went out of business altogether, such as the mining engineers and the chimney sweeps. Other professions adapted them role to the new situation: shops that used to furnish fireplaces now specialize in gas furnaces and electric hearths. Why does one group survive when the other does not?

In this section we shall try to work with generally accepted sociological terms.17 As there is some latitude in the way some of these terms are handled by different authors, we shall briefly explain under each heading our particular understanding of the terms used.

Social Changes

Social systems are held together by values commonly adhered to, by regulative norms of expected behavior and roles attributed to individuals or subgroups. When the inner structure of a society changes, the effects will be seen in all these elements. What we witness in the church today is precisely such a process of social change.

The subgroup we are discussing has relationships with many other subgroups among which the principal ones are the home churches, the churches in the third world, religious orders, and the Roman congregations. These groups could be divided again into more specific subdivisions. The home church, for instance, can be broken up as comprising the hierarchy, circles of benefactors, national missionary offices, aid agencies, the local Catholic press, and so forth. With all these subgroups

and further subdivisions of these subgroups a missionary institute has an intricate network of relations. It is this network of mutual relationships that is held together by values, roles, and norms.

When we examine the values prevailing in the church today, we may first identify a large block that have remained unchanged from former times. Such lasting values, which were accepted in previous centuries and are still considered valid today, are, for instance, belief in Jesus Christ, the sacramental system, organizational unity, catholicity in brotherhood, and so on. Certain values, on the other hand, have been considerably modified in the past few years. To mention just a few that are relevant to the mission task, we observe that instead of emphasis on apologetic defense of one’s own orthodoxy there is now more appreciation for what is good in Protestant churches or in non-Christian religions. The new values involved are generally referred to as “ecumenism” and “dialogue with other religions.” In the past there was a tendency to look on mission as planting the church, as establishing it as an institution. Nowadays concern will focus more on the faithful as living Christian communities, on their everyday life in a concrete human situation. The former concept of a Christian Europe giving aid to pagan and primitive races is rapidly giving way to the discovery that all six continents have equal standing and are equally in need of mission.

We observe similar changes when we study the role and the status accorded to missionaries. The social role of a subgroup consists of its cluster of obligations toward the other groups. Its status is the cluster of corresponding rights, the obligations that other subgroups have in return. Whereas missionaries in the past were in charge of the mission, were expected to take the initiative and to have full responsibility, now this role is defined, rather, in terms of assisting the local bishop and of serving the young church. This has resulted in a considerable loss of status. The missionary of today has become much more vulnerable. His superiority is no longer taken for granted. As Cardinal Malula said: “A real reversal of roles has taken place.”

Regulative norms within a social system are specific patterns of expected behavior. They describe the limits of permissible action, what some category of persons must do, may do, or must not do. Norms too have altered appreciably in the missionary world. In previous decades missionaries had a rather free hand; they could make their own decisions. Today, whether they are parish priest or matron of a maternity ward, principal of the school or development director, they are expected to act only after consultation. More than in the past, missionaries now need to show respect for the local culture and customs of the country they are working in. Other norms have remained unchanged. As in the past, missionaries are expected to be available to anybody at any time, to treat people justly and impartially, never to shame someone in public. But the requirement of language has become stricter; people will be more critical if missionaries do not speak the native tongue or if their mastery of the language is grossly defective.

It is in no way our intention to be exhaustive in describing such changes. Obviously there are vast differences between countries and their Christian communities. For our purpose it suffices to show that the position of missionaries and missionary

institutes is being subjected to new social pressures. The organizational change from the ius commissionis to the mandatum and the call for a moratorium on Western missionaries reflect these social pressures in tangible form. But does this transmutation of values, roles, and norms overturn or reduce the function of missionary institutes?

What Does “Function” Mean?

The notion of “function” plays a key role in analyzing social processes. It is important to understand it properly. The term originated in biology where it came to express how a particular organ was useful to an entire organism. So one could ask: “What is the function of the taste buds on the human tongue”? In an analogous fashion the term is now applied to the services and usefulness of a part for the whole social system to which it belongs. “Any partial structure—a type of subgroup, a role, a social norm or a cultural value—is said to have a function if it contributes to the fulfilment of one or more of the social needs of a social system or subsystem; any partial structure is said to have a dysfunction if it hinders the fulfilment of one or more of these needs.”18

Function needs to be distinguished from purpose. On the death of a chieftain, members of the clan may gather from far and wide with the purpose of paying him the last respects and assisting at his funeral. Within the social system of the tribe, however, the funeral celebrations may well have functions different from the purpose, such as affording the opportunity of communication and of keeping the clan together. Some functions that are clearly perceived are known as “manifest functions.” Other functions, which are not normally adverted to, yet significant for, the survival or welfare of the social system, are referred to as “latent functions.” The custom, widespread in Asia, of marrying with preference a daughter of a maternal uncle, has a latent economic function, namely, it keeps agricultural property within the family and so favors economic stability. Latent functions are unrecognized and unintended.

Not all functions are “primary.” Some are called “secondary” because they are of less significance, or benefit only part of the total social system. Support to the social system as such can be given by helping it retain its structures (pattern maintenance), by making it respond successfully to new demands (adaptation), by securing some of its desired objectives (goal attainment), and by harmonizing relationships between groups (integration). The primary function of the army in a particular country may be that it guarantees the national security and stability of law and order. Another primary but latent function may be that it solves part of the unemployment problem. The army may also have secondary functions such as absorbing aggressive elements of society by giving them a useful purpose and stimulating basic research, which also benefits commercial industry. All these functions are distinct from the army’s “roles,” which may change from time to time. The army may, for instance, be called upon to guard prisoners, to exercise police functions during a time of social unrest, or to man the fire stations when the firemen are on strike.

Recognizing something as a function or dysfunction does not imply an ethical judgment. In primitive society polygamy had a very useful selective function: it ensured procreation through the most competent male leaders. The caste system in India helped to maintain an almost immutable structure of roles and statuses. It is clear that polygamy and the caste system also have dysfunctions for the society in which they are practiced so that these societies might well be better off without them. The ethical judgment on the intrinsic merit, on its being conducive to the common good or not, can be made only after an objective assessment of the social functions involved.

The question that now lies before us is: What were and what are the functions of missionaries as a subgroup within the overall system of the church? What does this group actually do?  How does it fulfill the needs of the church or of subsystems of the church? Can we distinguish primary and secondary functions? What consequences have the recent social changes for these functions?

The Functions of Missionaries

Within the overall church the missionaries as a subgroup have fulfilled and are fulfilling fourteen functions. We shall list them here with a short description and justification for each. Most of the facts we relate will be known to those familiar with the missionary scene so that we feel excused from substantiating them at length. Although the order in which the functions are listed is not altogether at random, we do not by it want to imply any form of priority rating. At this stage our only intention is to distinguish the various functions of the missionary subgroup as factually as possible.

What then are the functions of the missionary subgroup?

  1. It provides witnesses to Christ and the Gospel: If we take seriously Christ’s words “You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), it should be recognized that precisely this kind of testimony has been given and is being given by numerous missionaries in countries and cultures where the gospel has not yet been widely accepted. Vatican II reaffirmed the need of such a witness in our own time: “In that case [when direct preaching is not possible] missionaries, patiently, prudently, and with great faith, can and ought at least to bear witness to the love and kindness of Christ and thus prepare a way for the Lord, and in some way make him present” (Ad Gentes, no. 6). In many countries missionaries have fulfilled and are fulfilling this function on behalf of the church.
  2. It starts new communities of faith: In many countries where no community of believers existed, through the action of missionaries such living cells of faith have begun to flourish. To mention but one example: Zaire now has 12 million Catholics (50 percent of the population) divided over fifty-one dioceses. “Missionaries, the fellow workers of God, should raise up communities of the faithful, so that walking worthy of the calling to which they have been called they might carry out the priestly, prophetic and royal offices entrusted to them by God. In this way the Christian community will become a sign of God’s presence in the world” (Ad Gentes, no. 15).
  3. It expands the church throughout the world: “The special end of this missionary activity is the evangelization and the implanting of the Church among peopies or groups in which it has not yet taken root. . . . With their own hierarchy and faithful,. . . they should contribute to the good of the whole Church” (Ad Gentes, no. 7). We are here highlighting the aspect of establishing the international structure of a hierarchically linked church. At present practically the whole world is covered by a network of dioceses that are united in ecclesiastical territories under archbishops. The ecclesiastical territories of one or more independent countries are coordinated by bishops’ conferences. In the territories under Propagation of the Faith alone there are sixty-six such episcopal conferences.
  4. It educates an indigenous clergy: Much has been achieved in this field. In Africa, for instance, there are fifty-six major seminaries with a total of 4,836 students of philosophy and theology. In 1979, 293 priests were ordained, bringing the total of indigenous African clergy to well over 5,000.19
  5. It stimulates evangelical ventures: Studying the history of missions in the past century we observe that small groups of missionaries often experimented with new approaches and thus initiated important developments. Dialogue with ancient religions, indigenization of the liturgy, and the use of the mass media in the apostolate, for instance, had been advocated by missionary groups before they were commonly accepted as values. Even though the bulk of missionaries may not have been directly involved, by providing creative minds and prophetic spokespersons the missionaries as a subgroup made a significant contribution to the church’s need for constant adaptation. Consider the example of Muslims in India, who now number well over 70 million. “Up to the time of Vatican II,” writes Charles Troll, “Father Victor Courtois, S. J., has been the only Catholic in India to propagate consistently the need for an apostolate among Muslims and, as part of an over-all vision, to evolve a concept of the methods to be used, the attitudes to be fostered.”20
  6. It promotes mission awareness: In the traditionally Christian countries the activities of missionaries have greatly helped to make Catholics aware of their responsibility toward the missions. For purposes of recruitment and fund-raising, missionaries preach in churches and address children in the schools. The 285 Catholic mission magazines in the West reach a vast proportion of Catholic homes. In third world countries, too, the presence of missionaries helps to keep the purpose of evangelization alive.
  7. It strengthens human and religious values: In many ways all over the world the missionary presence has had a great influence in safeguarding human and religious values. The abolition of slavery is an achievement mainly of Protestant missionaries, although Catholics too had their pioneers in this field, such as Bartholomew de las Casas. Or, to take another example, the emancipation of women in India was furthered most by the Christian mission. V. A. Smith writes:

The targets of disapproval, though not all brought forward at the same time, were suttee [suicide of a widow at her husband’s death], infanticide, child marriage, the plight of Hindu widows, purdah [seclusion of women from public society], polygamy and temple prostitution. The first two of these were regarded as general moral evils, and as such were attacked by the government itself, the first by legislative enactment and the second by a mixture of pressure and prosecution. The rest came within the scope of local custom and as such escaped official action. It was the missionaries who supplied the positive foil to negative government action not only by criticism, but also by setting forth a conception of womanhood new to the India of the day and by providing living examples of its nature.21

  1. It builds up new service structures: In many parts of the world missionaries have been and are the pioneers in building up service structures that are of great use to the people. Under this heading may be comprised educational institutions (from the classical system to present-day adult literacy programs), health care, youth movements, and development projects. Many states now reap the fruits of the research, the experience, and the organizational skills that have gone into establishing such social services. To cite just one testimony: “This world has seen many wonderful teachers, but among the most wonderful are surely the missionaries. . . . The Society of Jesus was one of the most powerful educational forces the world has ever felt; it could educate a French nobleman, an Indian chief, a Chinese mandarin’s son and a Polish squire with the same tact and charm, towards approximately the same ends.”22 It is interesting to note that in the present discussion on educational systems, Jesuits take a leading role in proposing radical reforms.23
  2. It aids the process of international integration: For a large social system such as the church it is a great advantage if constituent parts are linked not only from the top through subordination to leadership, but also directly by immediate contact at all levels. This has been achieved to a great extent. Missionaries injected useful ideas from their countries of origin and, vice versa, their experience in young churches sparked off new initiatives at home. The archbishop of Seoul writes: “Missionaries bring to the Korean Church aspects of the universal church, be it French, German, Dutch, or whatever, which keep the local church aware of its international nature.”24 In a penetrating article S. H. Sekimoto of Japan points out the theological and practical advantages of having foreigners involved in the local church.25 An example of inverted mission may be the influence of liberation theology and the basic community approach, which has come to Europe and the United States from South America.
  3. It supports church structures in third world countries: In many countries of the third world a large proportion of missionary personnel is engaged in pastoral care for already baptized Christians. Running parishes, schools, and hospitals, they support—some would say “prop up”—the ordinary pastoral structures found in dioceses all over the world. The reason given for this situation is the lack of indigenous personnel. A look at Kenya may show what we mean. The twelve dioceses of that country number a total of 2,140,000 Catholics. There are only 102 indigenous priests, so that the pastoral responsibility for them falls mainly on the shoulders of the 649 missionary clergy. Also the majority of the 209 religious Brothers and 1,607 religious Sisters are foreign.26
  4. It impedes the growth of the local church: The demand for a moratorium on foreign missionaries discussed earlier in this paper illustrates vividly that in many of the young churches the continuing presence of foreign missionaries is felt to be

counterproductive. It would seem that at least in a number of instances the misgivings are supported by facts. Dependence on foreign missionaries hinders the development of self-reliance, slows down recruitment, and obstructs inculturation. One clear incident may exemplify the implications. The Muslim government of Malaysia expelled, between 1970 and 1973, thirty out of the forty missionary priests in the Diocese of Sabah. The diocese had then only nine local priests, four of whom were Chinese from mainland China. The initial shock was traumatic. Eight parishes had to be closed; many of the 234 outstations could be visited only with great difficulty. But the population rallied in an unexpected way by a much greater lay involvement and a wave of new vocations. Now, ten years later, there are twenty-three local priests and the church is flourishing.

  1. It enhances the status of the West: Missionaries went out with the best of intentions, but also with prejudices about the country and the people they were going to serve. “Men and women of their age, they too considered that the infinite superiority, from every point of view, of Western society over the heathen world was beyond question,” writes McKeown.27 In modern times the missionary’s personal attitude may have improved, but the psychology underlying much aid-giving has not. The chief motivation is still pity, rather than respect and love. Missionaries tend to hold out the church of their home countries as examples of Christian faith and practice, while stressing the helplessness and backwardness of third world peoples when back in their countries of origin. It all shows that mission work, however good in itself, was and is fulfilling a psychological need of the West, namely, to prove to itself and to others its own superiority.
  2. It fulfills the heroic self-image of Western missionaries: We don’t want to call into doubt the sincere religious commitment that motivated missionaries. Yet it should be recognized that the missionary movement coincided with a century of discovery and adventure for the West. In the missionary ideal Western youth found a cause worthy to live for, a program that would fulfill deep-seated desires to open new avenues and conquer the world. It is significant that the biggest explosions of missionaries came from Catholic communities that were struggling to free themselves from oppression, such as the Irish and the Dutch. One of the most successful magazines in attracting vocations was called Heroes of the Mission Fields.
  3. It serves as an escape from problems in the West: Fabien Eboussi maintains that the recent efforts to reanimate the flow of missionaries from the West is a defense mechanism that seeks to divert attention from the serious religious crisis in the West to problems in the third world.28 Although it is difficult to substantiate this hypothesis, he may be right to some extent. In any case, it can be argued that some individual missionaries prefer to work in third world countries either because they cannot cope with the religious changes in their home churches, or simply because they find a better response abroad.

Brief Sociological Assessment

As far as we can judge, the fourteen functions and dysfunctions enumerated above are factual. Three are obviously dysfunctions, namely, the impeding of the growth of the local church (no. 11), enhancing the status of the West (no. 12), and serving as an escape (no. 14). Some may partly be dysfunctions. The three obvious dysfunctions are all latent in the sense that they are unintended and usually not adverted to. Also latent are fulfilling the heroic self-image (no. 13), aiding international integration (no. 9), and, perhaps, stimulating evangelical ventures (no. 5). The directly evangelical functions (nos. 1-7) are clearly primary; the others would seem to be derived, and hence secondary.

The questions we shall have to answer now are the following: (a) Are the dysfunctions intrinsic to the missionary movement? If not, how can they be counteracted?

(b) Have any of the functions outrun their usefulness? Have they been completed?

(c) Are there functions that would need to be preserved in the future for the good of the whole social system, the church?

(d) Are missionary institutes a good way of preserving those necessary functions?

We shall answer these questions in the next section. Our reply will rest on a wider basis than purely sociological considerations. Yet the parallel with ordinary social systems is close. John LeCarre describes in his novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold how a spy organization tries to prolong its existence after the war. When the country needed its services, the organization had been highly successful; but now it hardly serves any function. By a kind of natural impetus the organization starts to produce reasons to justify itself, with fateful consequences for a misguided agent who is sent on a futile and self-destructive mission. Could missionary institutes be validly compared to this?

Or are missionary institutes, rather, in the same situation as the renowned research institute for poliomyelitis in the United States? This institute, with a staff of more than one thousand members, was totally geared to research on that particular disease. When the appropriate vaccine had been discovered, the institute seemed to have become redundant overnight. However, an analysis of its functions revealed that, although its immediate function of research into poliomyelitis no longer had a justification, its latent primary function of serving medicine in general was as valid as ever. What had been set up for poliomyelitis research became the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Over a number of years the personnel were retrained, the laboratories transformed, and the library extended to adapt fully to this new objective. The institute flourishes as never before.29

Future Needs

A study of the functions described in the previous section leads to the conclusion that, while some may have become redundant, others have not. In our view it would be a mistake to disband the missionary institutes that are ex professo fulfilling such functions in the church. For the sake of clarity we shall marshal our thoughts as a chain argument, to show that the task of evangelization still needs to be done, that full-time missionaries will be required in the carrying out of this task, and that missionary institutes continue to be useful mechanisms for bundling the contribution of such full-time missionaries. However, missionary institutes will need to be adapted in line with the functions they will have to exercise in the future.


Our sociological analysis brought to light that the mission endeavor of the last few centuries contained a hidden element of religious colonialism. Western countries held the third world in a stranglehold grip. Willy-nilly, missionaries too were caught up by the social structures of the day. Unknowingly, by their very zeal they became one more mechanism by which the West furthered its superiority. The ambitious aid given to millions of the “poor and needy natives” of newly conquered countries greatly enhanced the status of the West (function no. 12). Without realizing it, intrepid missionaries confirmed their own self-image of Western enterprise and heroism (function no. 13). Their very efficiency, not less than their complacent clinging to Western cultural and religious values, hindered the growth of the local church (function no. 11). In some cases frenzied activity in countries where they felt lord and master may have disguised the inability to cope with the religious problems at home (function no. 14). Both mission and missionaries have become tainted with a streak of colonialism.

This was far from the intention and explicit motivation nurtured by the missionaries. Missionaries, in fact, were one powerful factor that speeded up the end of the colonial era; they fought for human values (function no. 7) and built up service structures that educated people to self-reliance (function no. 8). But neither the avowed intentions nor these valuable services could prevent that the whole system of missionizing indirectly perpetuated forms of dependence. It is obvious that a good springcleaning was and is necessary in this field. A whole new situation has arisen that requires a fresh approach. When a mother wants her teenage daughter to become independent and mature, she may have to rethink the way she runs the house. To become an adult partner the daughter too will have a say in how things should be organized. The new developments in the church demand a similar transformation: a removal of “paternalism” and a reshuffling of relationships.

The church has already acted by handing the responsibility for the ecclesiastical territories to the local hierarchy. Much more needs to be done. Western feelings of superiority need to be unmasked where they are hidden. Our structures as well as our thinking need to reflect the realization that there is need for evangelization in the whole world. Mission work is not a prerogative of the West; from now on missionaries should be recruited in all countries where Christian communities grow strong. We shall have more to say about these matters under the heading “Transformations.”


There is a saying in Holland: “As long as the master keeps an eye on the horse, it will grow fat.” The proverb derives from a time when the Dutch farmer was more concerned about his horse than about its groom. The unnerving effect of the farmer’s watchful presence on the farmhands was not even adverted to. This is characteristic of paternalism. Leaders imagine that they know best and so take personal responsibility for all details. They carry out tasks that others should do, in the belief that they themselves can do them better. They guide others in all things firmly convinced that they are helping in this way. In actual fact they often are an obstacle, hindering true progress by their interfering presence.

In such cases the only cure is withdrawal. Words cover up, good intentions avail nothing. Only the deed counts. Parents withdraw by allowing their adolescent child to take up a separate residence. The retiring manager withdraws by vacating his office for his successor. The commanding officer withdraws by leaving it to his platoon leaders to choose their own route to a target area. After a state of emergency the government withdraws from the press by no longer interfering in what it publishes. Withdrawal can take different forms, but withdrawal there has to be. The call for a moratorium was right in affirming its necessity.

In many countries—not only of the third world—missionaries support church structures by fulfilling pastoral ministries (function no. 10). As we shall point out later, one great disadvantage of this state of affairs is that it ties down men and women who should be mobile and employed in front-line evangelization. But another drawback, the one we are discussing now, concerns the psychological health of the emerging communities of faith. The continued presence of missionaries can indeed stifle local growth and stand in the way of true indigenization. The priority need of the local church should be honestly examined and withdrawal should be effected as soon as it is possible. It has been pointed out that a local bishop may sometimes not be a safe guide in judging the indispensability or dispensability of foreign personnel. A number of bishops may have vested interests. Foreign missionaries may be easier to control than indigenous personnel. They also guarantee the uninterrupted flow of financial aid. By keeping the traditional sacramental ministry well staffed the bishops may unconsciously want to delay necessary reforms.30 In quite a few cases missionaries may well render the greatest service by a determined policy of withdrawal.

A word of caution may not be out of place here. We should not forget that many of the churches we are speaking about are relatively young and have had no time to build up the economic, social, and psychological resources needed to be truly self- reliant. Zaire may illustrate the point I want to make. Of its population of 25 million exactly half is Catholic. If we restrict ourselves to a consideration of the available clergy, we find that the fifty-one dioceses are served by a total of 2,506 priests. No more than one-third are indigenous. Even as things stand now there is one priest for every 5,000 faithful. Compare this to, let us say, England which, with a Catholic population of 4,220,750 and 7,315 priests, shows an average of 576 Catholics per priest. Even now the average priest in Zaire has to look after nine times more Catholics than his colleague in England, in a country fourteen times the size of England! If the foreign clergy were to be withdrawn, the task for the remaining African clergy would be made three times more demanding. It would be damaging and unfair to this young church, which counted 400,000 in 1923 and underwent a thirtyfold growth in fifty years to reach its present size of 12.5 million.

The same needs to be said regarding the building up of service functions (function no. 8) and the education of indigenous clergy (function no. 4). Minor and major seminary formation, Catholic education, health and welfare schemes, development projects, charitable works, and other organizations fall squarely under the competence and responsibility of the local bishop. Where help is genuinely needed, missionaries should remain involved. It is, after all, a “rounding off” of the overall missionary task. Yet here, too, there is need of withdrawal as soon as the local church can take over. The withdrawal should be gradual and deliberate. Even if a total disengagement cannot be effected, responsibilities and positions should be relinquished in stages.

But what about the moratorium itself, the total withdrawal? Can the missionary task not be left in principle to the local churches?

Mission Completed?

It is not uncommon these days to hear people glibly speak of “the end of the missionary era.” What these will say can be summarized in a few lines: “The purpose of the missions was to plant the church all over the world. This has now been done. The gospel has been announced in all countries. Local churches have been set up everywhere. From now on there will only be the need of an exchange of help between sister churches.” To anyone who knows what church is about and is aware of the real situation in the world, the absurdity of the statement is apparent. It is like saying that we have solved juvenile delinquency in Europe because Interpol has been established; or that economic progress in the third world is now ensured because the World Bank has branches in all countries. To many people, however, the statement seems to be plausible enough. So, with apologies to readers who may feel we are flogging a dead horse, we shall set about demolishing the fallacy. Nothing is as pernicious as a plausible untruth.

Have local churches been established everywhere? If by “local church” one means “having a bishop from the same country,” then the answer can be Yes. Most countries now have been divided into dioceses, and the care for these dioceses has in most cases been entrusted to a bishop from the same country. A new hierarchical network spans the world. If this is what planting the church was supposed to do (see function no. 3), then the church has been planted almost everywhere, and this particular function of missionaries has been concluded to a large extent.

But surely this would be too restricted an understanding of local church. In fact it would seem to portray an entirely inadequate view of what “church” is all about. In the words of Avery Dulles, it would amount to an acceptance of the institutional model at the expense of the church as communion, as sign, as herald, and as servant.31 We cannot speak of a “church” unless there is a community of faith capable of being a sacrament of salvation, a herald of the good news, and actively involved in bringing about the kingdom of God. To be a “local” church it should be rooted through membership and ministers in the people of a particular place.

What happens if we apply these notions to the world as we know it? Let us consider the case of a diocese in northern India: Satna in the state of Madya Pradesh. In a population of 4.5 million there are 825 Catholics distributed over ten mission stations. A large proportion of these do not belong to the local Hindi population, but are Anglo-Indians or businessmen who have emigrated from the south. All the missionary personnel, with possibly one or two exceptions, come from the state of Kerala: the bishop, his twenty-eight priests and sixty-seven religious. Let us realize what these facts mean. Out of the 4,000 towns and villages in the diocese only ten have small Catholic congregations. Moreover, even in these congregations Hindi speaking society is hardly represented either in leadership or in composition. May this be called a “local church”?

It is not an isolated example. In 1976 the total population of the Hindi states of Uttar Pradesh, Madha Pradesh, and Bihar was estimated to be 194 million. If we don’t include the half-million Catholics in the ethnic areas of Ranchi and Raighar, Catholics in this vast area number only 350,000.32 The overall picture is much the same as that found for the Diocese of Satna. A large proportion of the faithful and the bulk of church personnel hail from non-Hindi ethnic groups. Even if in a number of localities a new beginning has been made and real indigenous communities of faith are emerging, these are only a few drops in the ocean of the Hindi world, a bare 2 per 1,000, a sprinkling of 12,000 small groups33 in a total of more than 170,000 townlets and villages in that part of India. If in an average village of 850 inhabitants forty families are Catholic, does that make them the “local church” for that village, and for 1,000 totally Hindu villages surrounding it? Would it not seem rather preposterous to pretend that the local church has been established in such areas? Should we not, rather, speak of “some local churches springing up in isolated places”?

These observations would seem to hold, by and large, for the whole of Asia. Most of its 49 million Catholics are made up of the pockets of the Philippine Islands (30 million), Kerala (4 million), and Flores (1 million). The remaining 14 million form less than 7 per 1,000 of all people in Asia and, let us not forget, we are dealing here with some of the largest countries in the world: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and so forth, many of which are composed of populous and important national subgroups. When they will have grown out to 60 percent of humanity in the year 2000, reaching the 3 billion mark, the Christian proportion will be even smaller than it is today. The framework of 363 ecclesiastical divisions that now link these churches in diaspora, however much an achievement in itself, cannot be taken as a sign that mission has been completed.

The Great Commission

In the previous paragraphs we were somewhat preoccupied with geographical considerations when discussing the question: Has mission been completed? We saw that even from a territorial point of view, large areas of the world have not yet been evangelized. We should now like to extend the discussion to other, undoubtedly more important, dimensions of evangelization. Again we ask the question: Has mission been completed, has our world been evangelized?

We live in a world where unemployment, destitution, and starvation ruin the lives of millions of people. The gap between rich and poor countries increases as time goes on. National and international systems of oppression are sustained by violence or by unjust economic means. The average citizen of the rich countries uses up thirty times more of the world’s resources than his or her counterpart in underprivileged countries. A worker in these latter countries may have to work, without social security, a ten-hour day to earn the same amount of food that can be earned by a worker in an affluent society in well under ten minutes.

It is not our intention here to repeat such well-known statistics. But we need to remind ourselves constantly of their reality. And we need to face these realities as they are experienced by thousands of millions in their daily lives. It is individual people who suffer. Follereau writes:

When you want to eat, don’t say, “I am hungry! ” but think of the 400 million young men and women who will have nothing to eat today.. . . One day when I was traveling in Asia I was called to a dying leprosy patient. She was young, twenty-two years. I saw her breathe out her pitiful life in brief spasms. When she had died, I felt a bizarre urge to weigh her. I took her emaciated body, still warm, onto my arms and carried her to a scale. This young woman of twenty- two years weighed 25 kilograms [3.5 stones or 49 pounds]. Now you know what she died of.34

Untold misery and an unforgivable violation of human life lie hidden in every such case.

In terms of our functions it means that today as never before there is a need for defending human and religious values (function no. 7). The urgency of this need was recognized by Vatican II and has been repeatedly stressed by the last four popes. The world needs to be evangelized by an aggressive program for justice on all levels. If anywhere, it is here that we find one of the frontiers between church and world, a border area where mission will need to continue.

Another reality of our world is the fact that humankind is divided by a number of ideologies. The principal systems of thought outside Christianity are communism, secular humanism, Islam, and the ancient religions of Asia. Each of these four groups poses a major challenge to the task of evangelization.

In this task the only effective tool available to Christians is witness. Political force or economic pressure, even if they could be brought to bear on the issues, would prove utterly useless. Education, the mass media, and other social mechanisms can only provide additional help. The basic approach will have to be one of Christian witness. In the past, missionaries were engaged in witness by their voluntary presence among peoples of totally different cultures and religions, by their concern for the poor and the needy, and by their way of life (function no. 1). Yet the aspect of witness was often overshadowed by the urgency of other commitments. Most energy and time were poured into evangelizing those who could readily be converted, in constructing buildings, and in external organization. In many places the missionary was admired more for indefatigable devotion to work than for resemblance to Christ in lifestyle and prophetic detachment.

Witness is the essence of ecumenism and dialogue. To achieve results in this field nothing short of a metamorphosis will do. The many initiatives that have already been begun need to be supported and intensified. A new generation of Christians needs to be raised who will give a new meaning to Christ’s words: “You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” The question is: Should there be professional missionaries among them?

Front-line Troops?

So far we have encountered three functions of the missionary subgroup that would need to be continued in the future: (1) starting new communities of faith (function no. 2); (2) promoting human and religious values (function no. 7); (3) witnessing to Christ and his gospel (function no. 1). It is obvious from a little reflection—and from reading the documents of Vatican II—that these forms of evangelization are the responsibility of the whole church. Bishops, priests, religious, and the laity all have their part to play. But if this is the case, is there still a specific role for full-time missionaries?

There is no contradiction between a general obligation involving the whole church and a specific full-time task entrusted to a few. On the contrary, this is the way social systems work. If a country needs to defend itself, it creates an army of professional soldiers to bear the brunt. Similarly, to maintain law and order it trains police; to impart education, teachers; to staff its hospitals, doctors and nurses; and so on. In much the same way the overall obligations of the church have given rise to various ministries and religious professions. Deacons were set aside to minister to the poor, priests to preside over communities as assistants to the bishops. The call for repentance produced anchorites and monastic orders. When the duty to pray and worship was in danger of being neglected, contemplatives came forward to endorse the point. When the life of priests became encumbered by wealth and landed property, the church called forth its mendicants. Small wonder that a church anxious to evangelize encourages full-time missionaries.

However, there is a realistic danger too in creating such professional bodies. The services rendered by the welfare state, for instance, have lowered people’s care and love for one another. Why bother about your neighbors if every kind of eventuality —sickness, fire, juvenile delinquency, unemployment, and old age—are dealt with by state-appointed specialists? In an analogous way the existence of “specialist” missionaries could easily lead to a lessening of interest and involvement among the rest of the faithful. The exact role of the full-time missionary needs to be defined.

The missionary is a living expression of Christ “on the move”: We read in the Gospels that Christ refused to “get stuck” in any limited locality. When people in Capernaum wanted to cling to him, he replied that he was called to proclaim the good news in other places too: “Let us go elsewhere . . .” (Mk. 1:38). In spite of his success in Sychar, he stayed there for only two days (cf. Jn. 4:40-41). Christ’s ministry was seen as a journey and the Great Commission as an extension of that journey “to the ends of the earth.” Many of Christ’s instructions given to his disciples concerned their apostolic travels (cf. Lk. 9:3-6; 10:1-16).

In the early church it was soon recognized that the Christian communities needed a resident group of leaders and ministers. Their presence, too, was an expression of Christ’s love. Each bishop was a steward appointed by God (cf. Tit. 1:7), a house

holder entrusted with the care of God’s family (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4-5). But apostles were called to embody Christ’s concern to move on: they crossed borders and opened up new communities. The difference can be clearly seen in the presbyters installed by Paul at Lystra (cf. Acts 13:23) and Timothy whom Paul recruited from Lystra one year later. “Paul. . . wanted to have him as a travelling companion” (Acts 16:3).

Although the imagery of physical displacement spoken of in traveling and moving on may not always apply literally, the reality described through it is actual enough. Today the gospel needs to move into large areas of the world that have hardly been touched so far: communism, secular humanism, Islam, and the ancient religions of Asia. To cross such boundaries is as challenging a task for the church of the future as it was for Saint Paul to enter the cities of Macedonia or for nineteenth-century missionaries to penetrate the jungles of Brazil.

To carry out this task of “Christ on the move” then as now, the services of specially called ministers will be required. This is, we are convinced, the specific missionary vocation spoken of in the Vatican Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity:

Although the obligation of spreading the faith falls individually on every disciple of Christ, still the Lord Christ has always called a number of his disciples, those whom he has chosen that they might be with him so that he might send them to preach to the nations (cf. Mk. 3:13 ff.). So the Holy Spirit who shares his gifts as he wills for the common good (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11), implants in the hearts of individuals a missionary vocation and at the same time raises up institutes in the Church who take on the duty of evangelization, which pertains to the whole Church, and make if as it were their own special task [Ad Gentes, no. 23].

The missionary is “set apart” for new apostolic ventures: All Christians have to leaven the world through their secular involvements. All Christians are supposed to be witnesses to Christ through the way they live. All Christians should preach Christ when the occasion arises. In this sense a dentist, a mechanic, a nurse, and a housewife can and should be apostles of Christ. But there are things that dentists, nurses— all those in secular professions—cannot do because they do not have the time and the charisms that are required. The first community at Antioch—which was very apostolic in the general sense—realized this. The Holy Spirit told them: “I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). This was the beginning of Paul’s missionary journeys. Barnabas and Paul were designated to take up the apostolic ventures that were beyond the scope of the ordinary Christians.

In Saint Paul’s time the charisms needed were no doubt the ability to travel, familiarity with Greek and Roman culture, a working knowledge of koine and other languages, a flair for striking up new acquaintances, the gift of rhetoric. But this was not all. Apostles had to be unencumbered and free. Had not Christ himself demanded such freedom by insisting that those who were to preach the kingdom should give up the three social securities of property, job, and family? Peter and Andrew, James and John, had to leave their nets to become fishers of men (cf. Mt. 4:19).

Candidate disciples were told they should not expect to possess even a stone to lay their heads on; they should leave the care of their families to other relatives: “Leave the dead to bury their dead” (Lk. 9:60). They should give up their home and their property, father and mother, brothers and sisters, wife and children (cf. Mt. 19:29). Barnabas and Paul were set apart for the missionary task because they not only had the abilities, but could also forego the social securities that tied down the other Christians at Antioch.

The demands of discipleship quoted here are rightly applied also to religious in general. Christ’s words have a seminal character. His radical vision called forth, in the course of time, such later institutions as the three vows and a wide range of active and contemplative orders. But it should be noted that in New Testament terms the missionary charism is more fundamentally and directly linked to discipleship than any of these later forms of organization. To put it crudely: in the New Testament perspective the church could well do without Jesuits or the Daughters of Saint Paul; it could never be without full-time missionaries. Or in a different way: many Jesuits and Daughters of Saint Paul are full-time missionaries; this is more basic to their discipleship than belonging to either of these organizations. When Christ commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to all nations, he could not but imply that among these disciples there would be, until his command be fulfilled, full-time missionaries who express in their lives a “going out,” a “crossing of borders”; and who have the inner freedom and external detachment to do this effectively.

In our sociological analysis we observed that missionaries have stimulated evangelical ventures (function no. 5). This was made possible through a combination of a pioneering spirit and the freedom of the gospel described above. In future years such a creativeness and the willingness to risk all for Christ will be very much in demand. When Paul VI spoke of missionaries in Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) it was those characteristics that he singled out for special mention:

Other religious, in great numbers, give themselves directly to the proclamation of Christ. Their missionary activity depends clearly on the hierarchy and must be coordinated with the pastoral plan which the latter adopts. But who does not see the immense contribution that these religious have brought and continue to bring to evangelization? Thanks to their consecration they are evidently willing and free to leave everything and to go and proclaim the Gospel even to the ends of the earth. They are enterprising and their apostolate is often marked by an originality, by a genius that demands admiration. They are generous: often they are found at the outposts of the missions and they take the greatest of risks for their health and their very lives. Truly the Church owes them much [no. 69].35

The missionary should act as the church’s conscience in the matter of its apostolic duty: We have already noted that missionaries promote mission awareness (function no. 6). Formerly this consisted mainly in recruitment and fund-raising for mission in third world countries. Now this function will have to be given a new orientation. Wherever they are, missionaries should by their very existence, by their example, by

the initiatives they undertake, and by proclamation remind the church of its obligation to evangelize. Do contemplatives not have a similar function? Surely their special dedication to prayer is not seen by others as a reason that would absolve them from their own obligation to pray; rather, it prompts them not to forget this dimension in their own lives. The presence of full-time missionaries should jog people’s memories and consciences in much the same way.

And people’s consciences need to be prodded. It is surprising how soon the established church settles into a situation of non-evangelization. In some European countries, for example, church directories will only indicate the number of Catholics in a diocese, not the number of inhabitants. Parish priests rarely step outside the circle of their Catholic parishioners; in fact, they may not even know how many other people belong to their area. This is indicative of a widespread apostolic lethargy, which sees the status quo as the attainable goal. The time has come for missionaries to raise their voices about this and to bring about a revolution.

Also in third world countries, in the traditional mission fields, much less evangelization is done than is generally realized.36 Diocesan priests, religious, and laity alike are absorbed by the wants of their own Christian communities. Especially when evangelization seems unrewarding, the temptation to become inward-looking is amazingly strong. Here too the prophetic voice of missionaries should be heard, not to accuse the church but to keep alive its missionary charism.

These three then are the specific functions full-time missionaries will continue to have within the overall apostolic task of the church: to represent “Christ on the move,” to undertake creative apostolic ventures, and to act as the church’s missionary conscience. These functions are not opposed to the missionary obligation of others in the church: they underline it and are integrated with it.

The Bishops’ Synod of 1974 provided an opportunity for high-level discussion on the merits and demerits of the moratorium idea. Although the need for withdrawal of various kinds was pointed out, it also resulted in a reaffirmation of the charism of professional missionaries. This is clear from the passage in Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) quoted above. Pope Paul VI repeated his stand in his message for World Mission Sunday of 1977. We cite his words, not so much to lend magisterial authority to conclusions we have arrived at independently as to show that international thinking in the church endorses full-time missionaries. In fact, the call for future missionaries arises from the same international awareness and coordinating authority that clarified the apostolic obligation of the local churches. Accepting the latter does not exclude the former:

There is need, therefore, for apostles trained especially for the mission ad gentes, in accordance with the criteria laid down in the Council Decree of that name. If they are trained for this special task, with a developed sense of universalism, based on a true feeling for human and ecclesial values, then we shall have new apostles who will turn even difficulties into so many opportunities for evangelization. Only a thorough training which leads to a generous dedication of oneself will create the conditions for a new and flourishing missionary era. And this is a goal that cannot be improvised but must be pursued courageously in prayer, study, reflection, dialogue, commitment. And it is a goal that we would point out not only to future missionaries, but to all priests, religious, seminarians and laity.37

And What about Missionary Institutes?

The organization of full-time missionary work can be done in five different ways: (1) by free-lance initiatives; (2) through structures set up by the receiving church; (3) through structures set up by the sending church; (4) through religious orders; (5) through missionary institutes. All five approaches are being followed and all have proved their validity. In line with the purpose of this paper we shall focus special attention on missionary institutes. Our quarrel is with those who contend that these institutes should be disbanded because they “arose in a time of Western colonialism that has passed and in a missionary era that has been completed.” Our reasoning will flow from a brief comparison of the five possibilities offered.

Free-lance missionaries are individuals or groups who take upon themselves evangelization without belonging to any recognized organization. A Christian doctor and his wife might decide to emigrate to Yemen to set up a medical practice there. The express purpose of this unusual step might be missionary as well as humanitarian. The notion of such “non-professional missionaries” was elaborated by Roland Allen in 1929. Allen pleaded for men and women of secular professions to go out to mission countries and live their Christian witness there. He wanted them to go independently from missionary societies and to see their main task in fulfilling their secular job in a truly Christian fashion. This witness would be more valuable than that of “professional” missionaries, Allen stated, because the latter are considered to belong to a special class and thus to be different from ordinary people.38

It is to be hoped that many convinced Christians will in the future take up such an apostolate.39 However, this approach will never be the universal answer to mission. First of all, the witness through a Christian life needs to be complemented by the kerygma of spiritual ministers, as Allen himself conceded. Second, the missionary challenge is too wide and complicated for it to be tackled by such a haphazard approach. Third, since World War II many Christian lay men and women have been involved in missionary endeavors. Experience has shown that they require the guidance and support of an organization. Quite a number of lay missionary institutes have been formed, thus demonstrating that the free-lance approach may not be practical. Fourth, if missionary efforts were to be left to free-lancers only, little would in fact be done. To achieve the kind of “mass movement” that could have an impact on evangelization in the future would itself require a continuous and intensive campaign within the church. This in turn cannot be done without organization —bringing us back to square one. Mission cannot be left to free-lance initiatives.

In some parts of the world, structures set up by the receiving church try to attract full-time missionaries. An example of this is a seminary or novitiate in a missionary diocese recruiting candidates for its own needs from other dioceses or other countries. This works well when there is a natural relationship between the area that provides vocations and the area that needs them. In this way Ireland provided many priests and religious for English dioceses, Kerala and Goa for dioceses in the north of India. But the arrangement has its shortcomings too. It usually ends up in tying down the imported personnel in pastoral ministry. Above all, recruitment and the initial stages of formation have to be done in the candidates’ place of origin. The organization required to recruit, train, and support personnel from a diversity of countries is well beyond the means of most missionary dioceses. What a number of such dioceses might then have to do, of course, is to entrust such recruitment, formation, and support to an intermediate organization. This might then develop into a missionary institute, as happened in the case of some of the new Indian missionary societies.

The organization of mission work could also be entrusted to structures set up by the sending church. Initiatives in this direction have been the Fidei Donum priests for Africa, the twinning of dioceses, and so forth. Its appeal lies in the persuasion that the whole home church, and not just a particular group within it, should carry the missionary burden. Here too the dreams of the 1960s and 1970s have given way to sober reflections. To sustain a many-sided and long-term missionary program, the appointment of some Fidei Donum priests will not do. Each sending church would need to establish a structure of experienced and capable persons to guide the planning, recruitment, formation, and support activities indispensable for such an intricate operation. Since mission requires the learning of new languages and cultures, short-term volunteers have only a limited usefulness; life members need to be enrolled. The structure that emerges would, for all practical purposes, become a parallel to the existing missionary institutes, most of which are already organized on national lines. Why should the church in France create a new institute when it has the Missions Etrangeres de Paris? Or thfe church in Switzerland when it has the Bethlehem Missionaries? Rather than building up extra structures, the correct response would seem to lie in a better integration of the existing missionary institutes with the home churches from which they spring.

Religious orders have channeled more full-time missionaries to mission areas and apostolic tasks than all the other mechanisms taken together. The total commitment enshrined in religious life can easily be actualized in full-time missionary work. Many orders and congregations see evangelization as one of their explicit aims. Does this, however, mean that missionary institutes are redundant because religious orders could do the job equally well? In our opinion the answer is clearly No. Why should a person who wants to be a missionary have to embrace the life of a religious? Is the call to religious life not a special vocation, a vocation that is not necessarily linked to the missionary task? Franciscans, for example, have been among the most numerous and successful missionaries of the past centuries. But surely the ideal of Saint Francis—his simplicity, his love of nature, his radiant joy—and the specific Franciscan rule may not necessarily appeal to the spiritual and practical vision of a would-be missionary. In fact, it could be argued that an order such as the Franciscans was founded in the Middle Ages to respond to a particular need and that missionary institutes with their more flexible rules and modern spirituality are better suited to the missionary requirements of our times. The spiritual sons and daughters of the religious founders of the past will certainly fulfill their own ideals also in their missionary involvements. But why should this rule out the validity of exclusively missionary institutes, which put their discipleship totally at the service of evangelization in forms of organization suitable to our times?

It is obvious from what we have said so far that we strongly believe that missionary institutes still have a rightful place next to the other approaches and structures mentioned. If any particular institute fails to attract a sufficient number of vocations or if it cannot adapt to the changing demands that will be made on it (“Transformations,” below), it should be terminated, as should any religious order in the same situation. But the contention that missionary institutes as such have had their time and should therefore be wound up has-—to put it plainly—no leg to stand on. Missionary institutes will be needed simply because full-time missionaries need the fellowship and support that they can give them, because mission work cannot be done in a haphazard way, because any endeavor to organize the missionary input effectively will almost spontaneously give rise to missionary institutes. The present missionary institutes may have their bends and scars, as one would expect from veterans in a draw-out battle. Many of them will have the inner strength to respond to the new demand.40 Other institutes will be founded to coordinate the missionary energy of the young churches or to meet the demands of new forms of apostolate. Missionary institutes are here to stay.


It is remarkable that the university system, founded in the Middle Ages, has remained intact till our own days.41 The reason for this is that its basic functions— educating graduates and furthering research—are as valid now as they were then. Yet when we compare Salamanca of the fifteenth century and Harvard of the twentieth, we notice that some changes—we call them “transformations”—have taken place. Many of the concepts and values adhered to by the professors and students are different now. Inductive science, standards of recording, approaches to education itself, and so on, have changed almost beyond recognition. Structures too have been adapted to modern requirements; the appointment of staff, examination procedures, and forms of consultation belong to our century. There has also been a notable shift in the models that unconsciously influence the behavior of lecturers and students alike. No longer will anyone today emulate Thomas Aquinas; they might worship Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. We find a social institution still exercising its basic functions, but with a transformation of concepts, structures, and models.

This is what will happen to missionary institutes. They will remain because their functions still serve a purpose. Yet they ought to be transformed if they are to meet the needs of the church in the altered circumstances of tomorrow. A missionary institute that fails to keep up the pace will soon be as much an anachronism as a university in Oklahoma that would copy the early rules of the Sorbonne.

Concepts and Values

It is beyond the scope of this paper to attempt a listing of all the concepts that are currently being reassessed and transformed. We shall be satisfied if we shall have somehow indicated the extent of the transformation required in this area. Many new ideas are floating around. They will need to be tested and refined. Many of the recent insights have remained in the notional sphere. They have not yet been given flesh and blood in tangible projects. There is still an enormous gap between the traditional values believed in by the rank-and-file missionary and the ideals proposed by the avant-garde. We are witnessing the chaos before creation!

What does “kerygma” mean? How does it relate to “primary evangelization,” “cross-cultural evangelization,” “missionary outreach”? It now seems quite generally accepted that elements such as secular involvement and liberation cannot be separated from kerygma. The emphasis in the future will hardly be on obtaining as many converts as possible; rather, it will be on witness and dialogue. This dialogue in turn will need to be initiated not only with the great religious traditions, but with the whole existential world of the people one approaches. Its purpose will be that Christ may be discovered from the inside and then explicated. Numerical results in terms of converts may be meager or even nonexistent for a long time, but it is hoped that an incarnated Christianity will be the eventual outcome. What is initially the kingdom of God could gradually become the church of Christ.42

Talking about church raises many questions regarding the kind of church that is wanted. The aspect of church that receives most attention is koinonia. The local church should be seen as a true community of God’s People in Christ rather than a juridical-hierarchical structure. There is also a search for church at grassroots level: the basic Christian communities. As communities where Christian love can be celebrated at its most intense and personal level, they have been called “a hope for the universal Church” (Paul VI); “the primary cells of the whole ecclesial edifice, centres of evangelization and an important factor for human development” (Cardinal Pironio); “the most local incarnations of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (East African bishops); or simply “the future of the Church” (Paul VI).43

The mutual assistance of sister churches, the diakonia, is also being scrutinized. In this area the task of the laity is receiving increasing attention. The role of the foreign missionary vis-a-vis the local bishop (servant and/or prophet) is closely linked with one’s view on the interdependence of charisms. How can the service extended by aid agencies by interpreted in ecclesial terms? Should new ministries be called into existence and give concrete expression to forms of diakonia relevant to our world?

The implications of missio have been studied by groups and individual authors. In 1963 the CWME/WCC meeting in Mexico City coined the term “mission-in-six- continents,” thereby seeking to replace the notion that “the missions” lie in third world countries. Apart from this geographical extension (“The church is in a missionary situation everywhere”), the concept is widened in ambience (“Mission is the crossing of all frontiers, whether geographical, cultural, social, ethnic, or spiritual”). Such a sweeping change in the definition of mission signals the advent of important new values. One problem is that the notion may become more of an adjective than a noun (or would it be wrong to say that China is more mission than Ireland?). Moreover, by a tendency to call everything mission its contents are eroded. It is like saying that everyone, somehow, is a Christian; or a pagan, for that matter.

This sketch of present-day discussion of concepts and values may suffice to show that much is at stake. One thing is certain: the old concepts are inadequate and should be corrected. The successful updating of missionary institutes will depend to a great extent on their ability to accept and integrate the motivating concepts that will rule the future.


Under the heading “Springcleaning” above, we have pleaded for adjustments that will of necessity demand structural changes. We have seen that the West dominated missionary organization. This led to such dysfunctions as Western missionaries impeding the process of acculturation, enhancing the status of the West, and fulfilling their own heroic self-image (functions 11,12,13). This state of affairs cannot be put straight by good intentions or soothing words. It has to be rectified radically and through structural reforms. One is already taking place: new missionary institutes are being formed in the young churches which will take their place next to the older, Western ones. Another structural adjustment might consist in internationalizing the membership of the older institutes. Further, it may be prudent to keep the number of foreign missionaries working in a local church to within a percentage that does not produce resistance.44

A great deal of missionary and pastoral work going on in Third World countries is financially supported by aid agencies and foundations in the West. According to the prevailing form of organization, the decisions on projects are taken in the West: by executives, consultative boards, or traveling agents of Western offices. This makes the young church dependent on policies formulated, or at least sanctioned, abroad. The efforts at working out “partnership agreements” between bishops’ conferences and aid agencies signal a new development that should be vigorously pursued.

Some authors foresee that the apostolate of the future will be “less centralized and less rigidly directed.”45 This may well be so and to no harm. Rigorous control is rarely a sign of good management. Yet some new ways of coordinating mission work are badly needed if waste of personnel is to be kept to a minimum. Before 1969 the whole organization hinged on a geographical division of responsibilities; with the ius commissions withdrawn, all 2,500 dioceses of the world are potential partners of any religious order or missionary institute. Unless some efficient intermediate planning bodies are established, new contacts will be made either in a haphazard way or by everyone having to search the whole market on their own. Can we expect every bishop to know the potential of all male and female religious orders and societies? Or can the latter have the information required to make priority judgments on requests coming from every part of the world? A particular ecclesiastical province has been shopping around for years to find a liturgy professor; an excellent candidate for this post was available but the need became known only accidentally. One congregation of Sisters pulls out of a diocese because it feels the task has been completed; another foreign congregation takes its place. A highly qualified architect offers his services to the missions; the offer is turned down because he cannot be placed; later it appears he would have been very welcome and useful in a big diocese.

The ingredients of a better coordination of structures could be the following: (a) Overall priorities and strategies could be worked out by consultation between the
Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the missionizing orders and societies, and bishops’ conferences. These priorities might concern geographical areas (e.g., Asia), ideologies (e.g., secular humanism, Islam), or world problems (e.g., urbanization), (b) The priorities and strategies could be given concrete form in longterm global projects, which could be sponsored by a number of bishops’ conferences, religious orders, and missionary institutes (e.g., twenty-year plan for dialogue with Islam), (c) An efficient and fast network of communication could be established between the secretariats of bishops’ conferences and the headquarters of religious orders and missionary institutes. Its immediate function could be the regular transmission of personnel offers and vacancies.

The new structures that might arise from an attempt to realize the three objectives we have spelled out should avoid certain pitfalls. They should not introduce an unwanted, pyramidal, top-heavy organization; rather, they should be based on the principles of “systemic” management.46 They should leave full scope for the personal priorities, idiosyncrasies, and charisms of all partners. Its planning should not be exclusively or mainly based on the advice of “experts”; the visions and gut feelings of the men and women in the field as well as the aspirations of the communities of believers are to be fully drawn in. Overall plans should not lead to a monopolizing of areas or apostolic tasks. And finally, initiatives have to be encouraged even if they deviate from the accepted approach or from a common plan. “For strong, healthy grass to grow, all that is needed is a crack in the pavement.”



When we speak of “models” here we refer to persons who express the ideals of a social group. In the early Middle Ages King Arthur, Charlemagne, Sir Galahad, and Saint George were models for the ubiquitous knights. Knights were an influential group in a society that was torn by endless conflicts between neighboring fiefs, by revolutions, civil wars, and systematic robberies. Within this turmoil the knight arose as a stabilizing factor. Through the models that society accepted and hallowed, knights were constantly reminded of the expectations people had, of the attitudes that should be cultivated. The models taught the virtues that we still associate with “chivalry” today: trust in God, loyalty to one’s overlord, valor and courage, honesty and fair play in all circumstances, protection of the weak, and courtesy to women.

Many authors today write about the new role expected of missionaries. They mention the element of servanthood,47 identification with local culture,48 competence in interpersonal communication,49 acceptance of oneself as “a foreigner,”50 and other requirements.51 All agree that it is fundamentally a question of attitudes that cannot be imposed by legislation or taught by logic. What we are really looking for is fresh models that enshrine the attitudes and ideals demanded in our own times.

The models that motivated missionaries so far were of particular types, for example, Saint Francis Xavier for pioneers, and Saint Therese of Lisieux for religious Sisters in supporting roles. It is time we recognize the limitations of these models.

Anyone who has studied the life and letters of Saint Francis Xavier is bound to acquire a great admiration for him as a missionary; we can learn much from him.

But at the same time we become quite aware that Saint Francis, as a “model,” incorporates some attitudes that would need correction—attitudes that were the result of the theological, spiritual, and colonial climate of his time. It would take too much space to enumerate these attitudes. Most of them, in fact, are to be found in the missionaries of that age, but they are more striking when perceived in a man of Saint Francis’s caliber. A few examples may be given by way of illustration.

Francis was so absolutely convinced that baptism by water was essential for salvation that he baptized thousands with hardly any preceding instruction; that he, though very sadly, felt compelled to tell his Japanese listeners that their ancestors were consigned to the eternity of hell; that he urged his colleagues in India to baptize as many children as possible because their (almost providential) high mortality rate would secure heaven for them.

Moreover, he had a low opinion of his Indian converts (the Catholic community would be unable to produce Indian Jesuits; Europe would have to provide them; he had a very negative attitude toward the Malabar priests). He despised the Hindu religion. He urged the children to tear down the temples and idols and took a great delight in their destructive zeal. He did not even attempt to understand the ancient religions but condemned them and their leaders a priori in the most forceful and negative terms: “The Brahmins are liars and cheaters to the very backbone. . . . They exploit most cunningly the simplicity and ignorance of the people.” Obviously then, in spite of his saintly, all-consuming heroism and his undaunted pioneering spirit, he can no longer be accepted as a “model” of what a missionary should be like today.

In our search for models we might think of people such as Charles de Foucauld, Martin de Porres, perhaps even Camillo Torres and Archbishop Romero of San Salvador. The ability to conduct dialogue should feature prominently in any future model. A stimulating article on this topic by J. T. Boberg describes what a person of dialogue is like. We adapt it here as an indication of the kind of model we need:

A person of dialogue experiences the other side, listens to others, learns from them.

A person of dialogue enters completely into the real life situations of people, suffers their lived reality with them.

A person of dialogue gives up “power,” does not yield to the temptation of imposing ideas, discovers with people—not for them—what their needs and programs are.

A person of dialogue meets people on their own terms, in their own time, realizing that waiting may well be a more powerful force than acting.

A person of dialogue accepts the fact of not possessing the truth or the only right way of doing things, is disposed to the message of others, and continuously open to further conversion as a result of dialogue with them.

A person of dialogue develops deep personal relationships, realizing that in listening to others, taking them seriously, identifying with their world, he or she is saying Yes to them, affirming them in a way that is tremendously creative, mysteriously salvific.

A person of dialogue is so immersed in the world of others, like Jesus in our world, that he or she can begin to ask questions which endorse and which challenge basic human values, and in that context—from within—can announce the good news and denounce sinful structures.52


Conclusion and Proposing a New Term

Saint Paul’s assessment of his missionary vocation in 1 Corinthians 9:15-27 may well provide some guiding principles for missionaries and missionary institutes of the future. The task remains. “I should be punished if I did preach it [the Gospel]! ” (vs. 16). It is the missionary who needs to adapt to people and not vice versa. “I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost” (vs. 22). The future will not be easy. It will require conversion, application, self-discipline. “All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win” (vs. 24). The metaphor suits our time. Ancient and modern systems of thought compete in a struggle that will make or break the lives of millions. People are waiting for athletes who will enter the race with them and who will take them to the finish: God. Missionaries will be athletes for God.

1 Corinthians 9 reveals that Paul understood his missionary role through a multiplicity of metaphors and images. Apart from seeing himself as an athlete, he compares his work with serving in an army, planting a vineyard, tending a flock, harvesting a crop (vss. 7-11). He draws a parallel with priests ministering in the temple (vs. 13) and with servants trying to please their masters (vss. 19-22). He knows himself sent (“Am I not an apostle?” vs. 1) and alludes to his profession as tentmaker (“Are you not my handiwork?” vs. 2). Paul anticipates the many self-definitions and titles applied to his successors in the missionary task throughout the ages.

This brings us to a last and weighty consideration. Might it not be harmful to the task itself that its image is at present determined by only one term, that of “missionary”? This is all the more serious because the term has accumulated in itself a number of connotations that are less fortunate. In third world countries missionaries are often seen as relics of a colonial period. They have the image of being builders, organizers, pushers. Their involvement has been so forceful that many of the attitudes of former generations are being associated with the notion of “the missionary” itself.

We realize that the term “missionary” also has its positive content. Yet, in the light of the thorough transformations we have called for in this last section, we believe the time may have come for deliberately coining a new term to fit the realities of the future. Words are influential tools in liberating from unwanted associations and in giving a new direction.

One term that could be used for the “missionary new style” is wayfarer,:53 Obviously there is an arbitrary element in any term, and its adoption will only result from a policy decision. But there are a number of reasons that would make adopting this term an attractive option. First of all, the term is a tabula rasa, fresh, devoid of connotations so far. Second, it has its roots in Scripture. Christ’s disciples were known as “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2). Apostles instructed catechumens “in the Way ofthe Lord”; they gave “instruction about the Way” (Acts 18:25-26). Disci- pleship is portrayed as wayfaring with Christ (cf. Lk. 24:15, 32). In fact, Christ himself is “the Way” (Jn. 14:6; see also 2 Pet. 2:2; 1 Cor. 4:17). Third, wayfaring expresses admirably the characteristic feature of the missionary as “Christ on the move,” discussed earlier. Finally, the term is not aggressive. It will lend itself to a self-definition in the context of dialogue. All religions start from the belief that a person is a wayfarer traveling to God.

Genuine wayfarers will be welcome anywhere. The world needs wayfarers who proclaim Christ, who travel with him. They will be the missionaries of the future, the wayfarers in a new age.


  1. Translated from the German: Beispieltexte C/26/40 (Aachen: MISSIO, 1979).
  2. C. N. Parkinson, “Plans and Plants,” in Parkinson’s Law (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1965), pp. 76-85.
  3. The full text was published in Omnis Terra 20 (1969): 230-34.
  4. From a conference of Nov. 26,1973; CIM (Brussels) 30 (1974): 23.
  5. J. M. Hogema, “To Stay or to Leave?” African Ecclesiastical Review 14 (1972): 126-29.
  6. Information Catholique International 297 (Oct. 1,1967): 28.
  7. Gerald H. Anderson, “A Moratorium on Missionaries,” Christian Century (Jan. 16, 1974): 43-45.
  8. C. P. Wagner, “Colour the Moratorium Grey,” International Review of Mission 114 (1975): 165-76; quotation from p. 166.
  9. Ecumenical Press Service (June 20, 1974), p. 11.
  10. Fabien Eboussi, “La Demission,” Spiritus 15 (1974): 276-87.
  11. Outlook 13 (1972): 103ff.
  12. J. B. Metz, Zeit der Orden? (Freiburg: Herder, 1977), pp. 19-20 (freely translated).
  13. Bijeen 11, no. 5 (1978): 4-7; Millhilliana 30 (1978): 41-46.
  14. Herbert Vaughan, Missionary College Chiefly for Pagan Natives (London: Knowles, 1866), pp. 15-16. In those days Vaughan still spoke of a missionary “college.” The same principles were later applied to the “society.”
  15. Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri, Dec. 31, 1929; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 22 (1930): 49ff.; Denz. 2203.
  16. Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, Nov. 1, 1885; Acta Sanctae Sedis 18(1885): 166ff.; Denz. 1869.
  17. Our main sources are: R. K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (New York: Free Press, 1949,1965); H. M. Johnson, Sociology: A Systematic Introduction (London: Routledgeand Kegan Paul, 1961); J. A. A. Van Doom and C. J. Lammers, Moderne Sociologie, Systematiek en Analyse (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1962); W. E. Moore, Social Change (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice- Hall, 1963); H. DeJager and A. L. Mok, Grondbeginselen der Sociologie (Leiden: Stenfert Kroese, 1971); J. M. G. Thurlings, De Wetenschap der Samenleving (Alphen aan den Rijn: Samson, 1977).
  18. H. M. Johnson, Sociology,; p. 63; the full classical descriptions are found in R. K. Merton, Social Theory, pp. 19-82; H. M. Johnson, Sociology, pp. 48-79.
  19. Annuario S. Congr. per L’Evangelizzazione dei Popoli (Rome: Urbana University Press, 1980), p. 440.
  20. Ch. W. Troll, “Christian-Muslim Relations in India,” Islamochristiana 5 (1979): 119-45; quotation from p. 126.
  21. V. A. Smith, The Oxford History of India (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), p. 725.
  22. Gilbert Highet, The Migration of Ideas, pp. 43,47; quoted in D. M. Stone, “Changing Patterns of Missionary Service in Today’s World,” Practical Anthropology 17 (1970): 107-18; quotation from p. 107.
  23. Cf. I. D. Illich, Deschooling Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1971); also, Penguin Books, 1973.
  24. “The Need for Missionaries,” Outlook 13 (1972/73): p. 105.
  25. S. H. Sekimoto, “La fonction propre du missionaire etranger,” Eglise Vivante 15 (1963): 457-65.
  26. Guida delle Missioni Cattoliche (Rome: Propaganda Fide, 1975), p. 417.
  27. F. McKeown, “Rethinking the Missions,” Heythrop Journal 1 (1966): p. 316.
  28. Fabien Eboussi, “La Demission,” esp. pp. 285-87.
  29. Our attention was drawn to this example by Mrs. P. Serrarens, Drs. Soc.
  30. H. Maurier, “Le Missionaire: Serviteur?” Spiritus 14 (1973): 174-89, esp. pp. 178-80.
  31. Avery Dulles, Models of the Church (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974; London: Macmillan, 1976).
  32. The Catholic Directory of India (New Delhi: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, 1977).
  33. This is counting all parishes and substations.
  34. R. Follereau, Appell an die g luck lie he Jugend der Welt (Munich: Zielfelder, 1975), p. 146.
  35. Catholic Ihith Society translation (London, 1976), pp. 93-94.
  36. In 1965 Fr. Queguiner, superior general of the Paris Foreign Missions, wrote: “The vast majority of the priests exercising their ministry in mission countries, foreigners or natives, are absorbed by the pastoral care of baptized people…. A reliable review recently estimated at 1,000 the number of priests occupied mainly, if not exclusively, in this task.. . .” (Preface to J. Dournes, Le Parent’a envoy#(Paris: Cerf, 1965). The observation is valid, but the number 1,000 rests on shaky foundations. The “reliable review” referred to is obviously Christ to the World, in which Fr. F. X. Legrand had argued to the figure in the following manner: “S. C. de Propaganda Fide desired [in 1895] that there be at least two of them [missionaries exclusively or mainly devoted to the apostolate among non-Christians] in each vicariate apostolic. At this rate, as there are 505 vicariates or dioceses under the jurisdiction of this S. Congregation, there would be 1,010 priests in the world—out of 392,000— mainly or exclusively dedicated by the church to the evangelization of the immense mass (1,900 millions) of non-Christians” (Christ to the World 6 [1961]: 28). We would like to ask Fr. Legrand how, with so few priests involved, 100 million people were converted in the past fifty years. But Legrand keeps quoting this figure in later issues (e.g., vol. 19 [1974]: 484).
  37. OsservatoreRomano, English ed. June 30,1977, p. 3.
  38. Roland Allen, “Non-professional Missionaries” (1929), in The Ministry of the Spirit, ed. D. M. Paton (London: World Dominion Press, 1965), pp. 63-86.
  39. The great value of such apostolate of witness is indisputable. See also Ad Gentes, nos. 21,41; Lumen Gentium, nos. 32-36; Apostolicam Actuositatem, nos. 5-6; Evangelii Nuntiandi, nos. 21-22, 26-27, 41-42.
  40. The General Chapters of most missionary institutes express both the willingness to change and the determination to preserve their original missionary charism; cf. S. Stracca on the Milan Fathers (PIME), Avvenire 25 (January 1972); F. Rauscher on the White Fathers, Theologisch- praktische Quartalschrift 124 (1976): 143-59.
  41. R. Nisbet, The Social Bond (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), p. 305.
  42. Interesting in this discussion is the role played by third world theologians. See “Final Statement, Ecumenical Dialogue of Third World Theologians, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, August 5-12, 1976,” in Sergio Torres and Virginia Fabella, M.M., eds., The Emergent Gospel (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1978), pp. 259-71.
  43. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 58; Pironio, Pro Mundi Vita 62 (September 1976): 6; AMECEA, Spearhead60 (1979): 17; Paul VI, Pro Mundi Vita 62 (1976): 4.
  44. H. Maurier points out the sociological fact that large foreign groups naturally provoke irritation (“Le Missionaire,” p. 180).
  45. N. Hanrahan, “Missionary Today—A New Vision,” Catholic Gazette 65, no. 1 (1974): 317.
  46. P. F. Rudge, Ministry and Management (London: Tavistock, 1968), esp. pp. 43-46; J. N. M. Wijngaards, What We Can Learn from Secular Efficiency (New Delhi, 1969), pp. 123-37.
  47. J. C. Shenk, “Missionary Identity and Servanthood,” Missiology 1 (1973): 505-15.
  48. W. F. Muldrow, “Identification and the Role of the Missionary,” Practical Anthropology 18 (1971): 208-21.
  49. J. A. Loewen and A. Loewen, “Role, Self-Image and Missionary Communication,” Practical Anthropology 14(1967): 145-60; “The ‘Missionary’ Role,” ibid., 14(1967): 193-208.
  50. B. Joinet, “ Je suis etranger dans la maison de mon Pere,” Spiritus 13 (1972): 191-202; Ivan Ulich, “The Missionary as the Foreigner,” Outlook 15 (1976): 15-16.
  51. Eugene A. Nida, “The Ugly Missioner,” Practical Anthropology 7 (1960): 74-78. F. X. Clark, “The Role of the Overseas Missioner in the Local Churches Today,” Teaching All Nations 10 (1973): 38-50. D. J. Hesselgrave, “The Missionary of Tomorrow—Identity Crisis Extraordinary,” Missiology 3 (1915): 225-38.
  52. J. T. Boberg, “The Missionary as Anti-Hero,” Missiology 7 (1979): 410-21; material quoted adapted from pp. 418-19.
  53. The term resulted from a name-seeking competition at St. Joseph’s College, Mill Hill. It was suggested by M. Faulkner.