“Baptized and Sent”- IMBISA prepares for a Missionary Assembly
From the 13th -17th November 2019 the Bishops of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) will meet in Maputo, Mozambique for the Twelfth Plenary Assembly on the theme: “Reinforcing communion in IMBISA for effective collegiality to respond better to the protection of children and vulnerable persons as well as the earth our common home”.
The Plenary is being celebrated in the backdrop of the recently concluded Extra-ordinary missionary month which emphasized the obligation of all Christians to rediscover their missionary mandate. Three matters, which are properly missionary, can be discerned from the theme namely the summons to communion and collegiality, protection of children and vulnerable persons and care for the earth.
The first is communion and effective collegiality, especially important among the Bishops. This recalls the fact that missionary work is never done solo. When Jesus sent both the twelve (Luke 9:1-6) and the seventy-two (Luke 10:1-23) we note that he sent them out as a group or at least in pairs. Even at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:16-20) Jesus addresses the missionary command to the eleven as he sends them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to fulfill all he has commanded them and the assurance of his abiding presence. This would continue to inform missionary work in the early Church as can be seen in the many instances in Acts and the many letters of Paul. Paul specifically refers to this matter at some stage of his missionary work as he felt the need to meet his fellow apostles, lest he runs in vain (Cf. Gal 2:2). This teaches us that missionary work is done corporately.
The second point refers to the protection of children and vulnerable persons. This point should be read in the context of the sexual abuse scandals by some members of the clergy and religious. The missionary activity of the Church includes the integral development of persons and freeing persons from all forms of oppression. Obviously, those who have been abused have felt some spiritual, physical and psychological harm and seek some form of liberation. Pope St. John Paul II underlines this fact in Redemptoris Missio (Paragraph 8) when he asserts: “The missio ad gentes is still being carried out today, for the most part in the southern regions of the world, where action on behalf of integral development and liberation from all forms of oppression is most urgently needed”. He goes on, citing the Latin American Bishops in Puebla saying, “the best service we can offer to our brother is evangelization, which helps him to live and act as a son of God, sets him free from injustices and assists his overall development”. Attention to the matter of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable persons therefore may never be seen as an option but is at the very heart of the church’s missionary endeavours.
The third point of the theme refers to the protection of the earth our common home. Caring for the earth is an act of charity insofar as it is geared towards the well being of neighbor. At the last IMBISA Colloquium on Laudato Sì Fr. John Selemela remarked as follows: “The aspect on ecology has always been seen as an area of what is now famously known as eco-spirituality. A careful examination of the Church’s understanding of mission in its evolution up to our present time can help us to appreciate the growth in the Church’s awareness of her mission as all-inclusive beyond just proclamation. An evolution of definitions about mission in the Church proposes a reframing of the missiological agenda”. This is emphasized in Laudato Sì (66) when Pope Francis says: “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself”. Missionary work is called upon to heal relationships and we do well in healing our relationship with the earth, neighbor and God himself. As such therefore, care for the earth is not an option but very central to the message of faith.
In conclusion therefore, it is proper to see the theme for the about to be celebrated IMBISA Plenary Assembly as properly missionary in its basic orientation. Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium (paragraph 40) of being open to growth even in understanding Church realities as he states: “The Church is herself a missionary disciple; she needs to grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of truth. It is the task of exegetes and theologians to help “the judgment of the Church to mature”. Communion and collegiality, protection for children and vulnerable persons as well as care for the earth fit into the scheme of the missionary activity of the Church. Missionary work is not optional extra for the baptized but a constitutive element of all the baptized who have been sent to spread the Gospel of Christ.
Fr. Dumisani Vilakati IMBISA Pastoral Department 01 November 2019