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Synodal Pathway: A Mill Hill Lay Missionary Responds

Jacinta van Luijk MHM:

I have been a Mill Hill missionary since 1982, including a period from 2001 to 2009 with the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM), and ‘permanent missionary worker’ with the WNM (Week Nederlandse Missionaris – ‘Dutch Missionary Council’) since 2010.

My first ministry was from 1982 – 1998 in the urban apostolate team in the Kisumu shanty-town areas, Pandipieri Catholic Centre, with special attention for community-based health care, nutrition and HIV/AIDS prevention and care.

From 2001 to date, my tasks have been in community education and counselling on HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, violence/trauma and marginalised youths’ issues in Trans Nzoia County under the Kitale Community Advancement Programme (KAP) (formerly ‘Kitale AIDS Programme (KAP)’.

My professional background is in nursing with additional education in health promotion and international development. There also were the Mill Hill Missionaries’ associates training and courses on pastoral and spiritual counselling/apostolic spirituality and retreats.

I feel extremely privileged for all these years, to have been given the opportunity to do the work for which I feel I have been called.

A Lay Missionary

As a missionary I have been an ‘associate’ or ‘lay’.

Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) have made this possible, and also provided the resources and space for continuous learning. For this I am truly grateful. It is also special and encouraging to share vision, ideals and a spiritual motivation with several fellow missionaries.

Deep gratitude too, I feel for the teams in which I have been allowed to work. These have been intercultural and with intense opportunities for friendship and sharing. Our current team is deliberately interdenominational and interfaith. We are motivated, driven and strengthened by our faiths, and it is not difficult to find each other in the shared aim and objectives of our work. Instead of being hindered by theological arguments, ‘being lay’ makes it easy to focus on our shared God-given humanity. Our different denominations/faiths’ ‘entry-points’ have been enriching. We pray and reflect together, encourage each other and we have become friends.

It has been a real privilege to be engaged in ‘matters of practical daily life’. Although not easy, the results are equally energizing. Most of our staffs and community trainers are very committed to their work, often spontaneously going many extra miles.

Companions on a journey?

My experience over the years is that appreciation of the priestly role of ‘lay’ people is personal rather than structural. Yes! There is official recognition in church documents, and especially congregations have dared to translate these into practical steps. However, vagueness remains, ‘traditional’ perceptions persist to dominate and often the majority of ‘lay-people of God’ is perceived as the lowest on the ladder of holiness, participation and authority. Sometimes we even seem to become extinct (e.g.as lay-missionaries).

In 1982, when applying to the Catholic Bishop for his permission for me to join the Pandipieri Urban Apostolate team as a lay-missionary, he replied “not to have any objection”. Unfortunately, the Dutch governmental JVC fund felt that this was showing insufficient commitment, and refused its funding.

“In 2009, upon departure of the Sisters, an agreement was made for KAP to henceforth work separately from the Catholic Church. In order to operate effectively, the programme needed to continue to have its financial- and other ‘decision power’ and answerability, and also space to spread its wings. This, and also fears of KAP’s condoms-teaching and interdenominational/ interfaith character, now under the guidance of a lay-missionary, were responsibilities that the Church felt unable to carry.  We were allowed to continue using part of our offices. 

Whereas we welcomed and were grateful for this decision, I also feel that the reasons mentioned point towards certain problems in the Church.”

In general, the official Catholic Church hierarchy, even several fellow priest-missionaries, keep their careful distance. “We are theologians, not social workers” a parish priest told us. “Yes, we should also have attention for humanitarian issues” consoled another, as if this was not his core business. In our work we constantly meet huge spiritual questions, on the purpose of life, on how to live daily life, on how to relate as human beings, of worthlessness, uselessness, loneliness and despair. These often are not taken up by Church leaders and workers as issues to be considered beyond a prayer. There is no happiness in the Church that prisoners are prisoners no more, the blind can see and the downtrodden are now free…

Practical Matters Hindering Progress

In my view there are main issues in the Catholic Church (and elsewhere too) that block the Holy Spirit in its work. They also prevent people from listening, understanding and participating. They often involve hypocrisy.

In my experience, due to these matters, I cannot “Go and tell everyone the news that the Kingdom of God has come”. For example, in the Netherlands regarding my being a Christian and missionary I usually have to very carefully weigh my words, and ‘live faith in action’ rather than talking about it.

In my view the first and foremost issue to be addressed is the fear within the Church: Fear to listen to the Unknown, fear to love, fear for responsibility … etc.
Other major matters I see are: Insufficient attention for critical issues in the world, “the urgent cries of God’s creation” (e.g. environmental disasters, war and peace, etc.); financial management, transparency and answerability (also including the use of ‘dirty money’; the role of ‘money’ (in many aspects the Church has literary sold its soul, condones corruption and severe greed. Some of my Kenyan friends refuse further participation in Small Christian Communities as “they are only about money”. Others complain that “the Catholic Church is too expensive to belong to”); full participation of women (surely, the lack of this in the Catholic Church is completely incomprehensible, unjust to God’s creation and deeply painful); the structure of authority in the Catholic Church (as it is, the ‘higher levels’ are able to block any progress); the admission and management of ‘sin’ within the Church (e.g. all sorts of abuse, sexual abuse, etc.); Narrow views on and management of sexuality, celibacy; Etc.

I seem often to observe confusion in handling matters of forgiveness, compassion and management of criminal deeds.

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