James H Kroeger (editor), The Gift of Mission, Orbis Books, 2013
This wealth-filled volume celebrates the First Centenary of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, popularly known as Maryknoll.
The book is a symposium in which over the course of three days Maryknoll priests, sisters and lay missionaries came together to celebrate a generous past and look to a future in Mission full of new challenges. They were assisted in that by various experts, some of them not of Maryknoll.
Central to the practice of Mission is the experience of friendship. This is what Gustavo Gutierrez, father of Liberation Theology, underscored when he spoke briefly to the assembled missionaries. “I do not call you servants, but friends.” This is the only genuine way of living the preferential option for the poor. That friendship has an ancient pedigree in the history of Mission. When Mateo Ricci went to China, having immersed himself in the language and culture of his new people, he chose as his first translation of writing from his culture Cicero’s De Amicitia. “Mission is people,” one elderly missionary emphasised.
Reading this book is an authentic learning experience. In a chapter entitled, “Mission and the Art of Parachuting” there are many items of missionary learning that you and I never knew. Studies at the Maryknoll Institute of African Studies have established that it takes up to 25 years for a person to become fully integrated into a new culture. Fundamentally a person is a person of only one culture. For that reason it is incumbent upon the new arrival to get into the language, culture and spirituality of his adoptive culture as soon as possible. This is not merely a mechanical question. One native told a missionary, “You speak our language well, but you do not know what you are saying.” I was 9 years in Peru when someone called me, “recently arrived”!
The well-known Robert Schreiter gave a talk on, The Future of Mission ad Gentes in a Global Context. He spoke of the familiar models and he adds two more: mission in altum and mission ad vulnera. These challenge us to launch into the deep and to look to reach out to those most wounded in contemporary society. We live in a world which presents new challenges and where new wounds have been inflicted.
Thoughtful missionaries will read this volume with much profit.