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General Chapter Diary: Mission to Europe and North America

A brief extract from the General Council’s Report on Mission to Europe and North America.

The changing environment for Mission in Europe and North America

A number of external trends which were already present but have become even more visible during the period of the mandate of this General Council may be noted:

  • Growing secularisation, decline in the observable practice of faith (as measured by Mass-going and sacramental participation), ageing congregations, clustering of parishes, closing of churches, fewer priests, etc.
  • The damage caused to children and vulnerable adults by different forms of abuse, including sexual abuse; also the negative impact of abuse scandals on the credibility of the Church and on people’s participation in the Church.
  • The emergence of new religious movements – often charismatic and/or traditional in nature.
  • The growing presence and influence of Catholic migrant communities in the West.
  • The positive impact of Pope Francis, his teaching and his personal example.
  • Societal trends, including: increasing inequalities and concentration of wealth, xenophobia, religious fundamentalism and extremism, gender identity, war and conflict (including on the European continent), drugs and alcohol abuse, the growing influence of the internet and social media in people’s lives.
  • Climate change, its devastating consequences and inadequate official responses.
  • Covid-19 pandemic: threats to life, health & well-being; lockdowns, travel restrictions, but also the many creative responses to the pandemic and the effective vaccination programmes.

This is the new environment in Europe and North America in which our MHMs are called to love and serve. Some of our MHMs in pastoral ministry speak of a situation which is not unlike that of ‘primary evangelisation’. One has only to open one’s eyes to become aware of the many missionary challenges in the West, including with regard to justice, peace and integrity of creation.

The face of our Society is changing rapidly, with a significant number of African and Asian Members joining at the same time as the number of active European and North American MHMs is declining. It is in this context that Chapter 2015 emphasised that, among the aspects of our missionary work requiring particular attention by the General Council and the membership, was the recognition of the value of Mission in and to the West. (Documents, p. 14) The same Chapter went on to recommend the exploration of the possibilities of Members and Associates forming multicultural missionary teams whose particular focus could be the pastoral care of migrant communities in the West.” (ibid)

As the above recommendation suggests, the focus would not be on ‘filling gaps’ in dioceses in the West but on reaching out to people living on the margins of society, people in greatest need. Following the Chapter, Society leadership took tentative steps to implement this recommendation in different locations in the West. Progress has already been made in some of these places, but not in others (see below, under each Region/Area). At Cluster Meetings in Africa and Asia, and at the Young Members Seminar, a call to be more proactive in pursuing Mission in/to the West was made. It was observed how many dioceses in different countries in the West were already calling on the services of clergy from Africa and Asia to run their parishes. Our young MHMs wanted to make a contribution to the revival of Christian faith in the West.

While it is important that the Society’s emerging Mission-to-the-West project has a clear and specific identity along the lines set out by the Chapter 2015 mandate, it is equally important not to portray it as the only form of Mill Hill mission in Europe. MHMs are already involved in Mission in/to the West in different ways, for example, ministry in migrant parishes, ministry to populations ‘on the move’, such as seafarers, refugees, travellers. In addition, the missionary approach which many MHMs currently adopt in the context of their day-to-day parish ministry needs to be appreciated. Apart from giving a missionary slant to the usual pastoral activities (e.g. homilies, promoting lay responsibility, an outward-looking parish website), some MHMs in parishes run specific evangelising programmes (Alpha, RCIA, training of street evangelisers, fund-raising for pastoral and development projects in other countries, etc.). This missionary influence of MHMs sometimes extends to deanery and diocesan structures as well. The validity and value of all such approaches need to be appreciated, so that if a Region/Area opts for a Mission-to-the-West project, this should not be interpreted as considering other types of Society initiatives in the Region/Area as being somehow ‘second-class’ from a mission perspective. In any case, it is probably just as challenging to minister in a secularised parish-setting in Europe as it is to minister in the kind of Mission-to-the-West project proposed by Chapter 2015. It has been said that two or more generations in contemporary European society are now religiously illiterate. There is a fundamental missionary task to find ways of communicating the Good News in this secularised environment.

Gallery of Delegates:

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