True missionaries, who never cease to be disciples,knows that Jesus walks with them, speaks to them, breathes with them, works with them. They sense Jesus alive with them in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of the missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigour and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody (EG. n° 266).
The horizons of evangelisation and the urgent need to witness the evangelical message to all, without distinction (PE), constitutes the vast field of our Mill Hill apostolate. Such an urgent mission requires personal and communal conversion opening our hearts to interpret the signs of the times and to be receptive to the appeals of hope and peace of needy humanity. Our ‘genetic code’ as Mill Hill missionaries drives us to come close, with simplicity, to those who suffer most: the sick, the children, the abandoned, the elderly, and the poor…all.
I am heartened that we continue to launch out to the scary edges, the outskirts. In recent years this source of great blessing as good shepherds willing to enter into the chaos of people’s lives has taken shape. Battambang and Kampong Cham in Cambodia, Busaana in Uganda, re-tracing God’s walking stick amongst the Maasai apostolate in Ngong, Bojongo in Francophone Cameroon, the Vietnamese community in The Netherlands, White Plains in New York, the promising foundations being laid in Kinshasa, war torn Juba in South Sudan, St. Edmund Campion/St. Joseph’s Parishes in England, a resumption of our presence in the Holy city of Varanasi and exploring new beginnings in the Archdiocese of Jaro, the Philippines, and the undertaking of parish ministry in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in England. We acknowledge the outreach and pastoral care of our Spanish and Portuguese speaking peoples in the Netherlands. With our missionary presence, we continue to build on our fairly new ventures in Ambikapur, India and Kotido, Uganda. Whilst we continue in areas where we have had a long and cherished tradition, we must continue to move to the edge and seize the new opportunities for mission presenting themselves. With our new members coming through our Formation Programmes, we can cover our present commitments in Africa and Asia and at the same time expand into new areas of mission as we have been able to in the past seven years. Our commitments will become more stretched in Europe and North America with declining numbers.
Mission to/in West
Chapter 2015 recognised the value of Mission in and to the West. Our Young Members, (2009 – 2015), meeting in Manila in September 2019 spoke strongly and held Mission to the West as a missionary out-reach that requires further exploration and a more firm commitment whilst re-emphasising the need for international teams to meet this endeavour. Our Members particularly from Africa and Asia do not see this as a stop-gap for declining numbers of priests in countries where our Society began but an opportunity to evangelise. Our Leadership Consultation meetings discussed this in 2020 at the combined meeting of the GC/Leadership from our Regions and the North American Area. In the past few years teams are now in Sunderland, Maidenhead and New York which is a positive move coming towards the extended mandate of the present GC. Taking Sunderland as an example, the area suffers its own share of poverty, deprivation, unemployment, lack of opportunity and their attendant social issues. In addition to the everyday parish activities one would expect, the parish already engages in activities consistent with Mill Hill’s priorities including inner-city ministry and outreach to the homeless and refugees.
We had hoped to place a multi-cultural team in Belfast where the Society had been present during the ‘troubles’. However, the contract with the parish was not extended when it came up for renewal.
Urban City Ministry
We are already present in direct pastoral ministry in a number of major urban settings such as Nairobi, Douala, Juba, Kinshasa, Amsterdam and New York.
As we are living in turbulent times, the necessity of a deeper understanding of the value of other religions, such as Islam, Hinduism and Traditional Religions is called for. In India (BJP), Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia), Pakistan and even in Kotido we can see the infiltration of these fundamentalist groups often associated with extremist violence all pushing their own agenda. Our missionary presence is on the margins in such places as in Ambikapur, North India. No official specialised training has been undertaken by our Members or Associates in this area. Much stops at the dialogue of experts.
2020 saw the milestone marking fifty years of our Mill Hill Associates – over 100 – who have journeyed with the Society in many corners of the Mill Hill world. Celebrations to mark the event were planned to be held in the Netherlands in March 2020 but postponed due to the Coronavirus. Celebrations were slated in England following the Chapter in 2020, again postponed. Applications to date from Africa were for career opportunities and mainly in line with developmental programmes. Hardly any enquiries were received in Europe and North America. The young lay professionals of today are more geared to short-termism and job/financial security.
We continue to walk with lay groups such as the Missionary Community of Corpus Christi (MCCC) and have assisted the Cultural Exchange Programme in China. (CEC). The APEAR Programme only yielded one Associate since its beginning. Applications to date from Africa were for career opportunities and mainly in line with developmental programmes.
We have five Associates – four of whom are resident in their countries of origin and one in Kenya. Ministry continues with the Kitale Aids Programme and the outreach to the Spanish speaking peoples in Amsterdam.
Coming from all parts of the Mill Hill Globe, we are called as a Mill Hill Society to work together in inter-cultural groups (multi-cultural teams). Racism, caste, clericalism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, ethnic and national superiority must be challenged as they are destructive, divisive and deeply unchristian.
Laudato Si – Querida Amazonia
In my closing address to Chapter 2015, I noted that it came at a time in history connected with the issuing of Pope Francis’ ‘Laudato Si’. We now celebrate the seventh anniversary of his encyclical. An invitation was extended to everyone to take part in the Special Laudato Si Anniversary Year running from 24th May 2020 until 24th May 2021. This encyclical is focused on an ‘integral ecology’, connecting care of the natural world with justice for the poorest and most vulnerable people. Only by radically reshaping our relationship with God, with our neighbours and with the natural world, the Pope says, can we hope to tackle the threats facing our planet today. Science, he says, is the best tool by which we can listen to the cry of the earth, while dialogue and education are the two keys that can ‘help us to escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us’.
Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a “human” ecology which in turn demands a “social” ecology. All this means that humanity…must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology…everything is connected…if the care of people and the care of ecosystems are inseparable, this becomes especially important in places where ‘the forest is not a resource to be exploited; it is a being, or various beings, with which we have to relate. (QA 41, 42).
“Climate change is the most pressing challenge the world faces as climate disasters wreak more and more destruction, hitting poorer countries the hardest – despite them having done the least to cause them. The decision to divest is principally a response to the clear moral imperative of acting to safeguard our planet for future generations at a time when scientific evidence is mounting that we are facing a grave climate emergency. What happens to the climate and the environment will have implications for us all. That’s why we need to act together to protect the conditions for human life.
“All our institutions need to respond to this ecological crisis and take bold action to reduce energy use and switch to renewable sources. Large-scale investors should be doing everything possible to help avert the severe consequences that could result if adequate measures are not taken.” Many initiatives have taken place including the ‘Inter Congregational network’ on Laudato Si co-hosted by one of our own members.
The Pope is convinced we are living through an epochal change and he is reflecting on what will follow the crisis, on the economic and social consequences of the pandemic, on what we will have to face and, above all, on how the Church can offer itself as a safe point of reference
Bridge + Gap
One only has to glance at our Society world-wide to see the gap between our membership now coming from Africa and Asia both in number and age. We can span this gap by our concern for those now retired from mission overseas and those embarking on their missionary journey and the charting of new endeavours. Our Newsletters from our Formation Centres, the Mill Hill Website, the contribution of written articles to our magazines, personal contact, our renewed vigour to appoint members from Africa and Asia to Europe and North America, renewal programmes will surely link the Society together. Are there more daring initiatives that could contribute to bridging this gap?