Despite Papal Push, Draft on Mission Work Called a “Dreadful Disappointment”

117th General Congregation
November 7, 1964

Despite Pope Paul VI’s personal intervention in behalf of the council’s drastically reduced document on the missions, council Fathers handled it roughly.

Eight Fathers, including two cardinals, declared that the propositions on the missions are unsatisfactory. Several others, while not assaulting the propositions head on, called for extensive revision and enlargement.

Pope Paul, the day before (Nov. 6), had told council Fathers that in his opinion they could “easily approve” the propositions before them with some final and necessary touching up.

Joseph Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany, led off the debate (Nov. 7) by asserting that important subjects such as the Church’s missionary life cannot be compressed into just a few propositions.

Bernard Cardinal Alfrink of Utrecht, the Netherlands, said practically the same thing, asserting that the missionary vocation cannot be treated in a few propositions. He called for extensive treatment.

Bishop Paternus Geise of Bogor, Indonesia, speaking for all the bishops of Indonesia, said the product of the Mission Commission’s long labors reminded him of the Latin poet Horace’s line about mountains being in labor and producing a mouse.

In the name of the bishops of Thailand, Bishop Peter Carretto of Rajaburi said they were as disappointed with the new text as they had been delighted with the earlier one (now drastically cut down).

Bishop John Velasco of Amoy, China, expelled from his See and now episcopal vicar for Chinese in the Philippines, said it would be better to say nothing at all than to say so little about such an important subject.

Father Giocondo Grotti, head of the independent prelature of Acre and Purus, Brazil, speaking for Brazil’s 38 independent prelates, said that while the commission’s work was praiseworthy, what it produced was not.

Bishop Guy-Marie Riobe of Orleans, France, asked for a new text based on observations which the council Fathers, during the interim period between sessions, had sent to Rome about the former text.

Bishop James Moynagh of Calabar, Nigeria, branded the propositions as inadequate and declared they must be redone entirely.

The most rousing speech of the day — to judge by the reaction of the council Fathers — was perhaps the most diplomatic, since it criticized the document powerfully without actually rejecting it.

The speech came from Bishop Donal Lamont, O. Carm., of Umtali, Rhodesia. It was punctuated throughout by burst after burst of applause from council Fathers.

Bishop Lamont said he spoke in the name of “many” of the bishops of Africa. He said missionary bishops had expected “not bare, simple propositions, but a schema of fully sound doctrine and practical proposals.”

He emphasized the present document’s good points.

“It is positive in its approach. The propositions are useful. They are necessary. But they are not enough,” he said.

The Irish-born missioner said the Pope’s visit to the council the previous day “is a consolation far beyond anything we had hoped for.”

He said all missionary bishops were thrilled to see “the first missionary sitting among us, and for this we offer him from our hearts our most profound thanks.”

Bishop Lamont said it would be “a dreadful disappointment” to missionaries and their people “if the glorious missionary work of the Church is to be compressed into a few naked propositions.”

He likened the propositions to “dry bones” and said they recall Ezechiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones. The Lord asked Ezechiel whether these bones would live, and Ezechiel answered that only God knew, he noted.

Bishop Lamont said only God knows whether the propositions on the missions will ever live or not.

He asked the bishops whether the propositions before them had inspired any of them to sacrifice or to a new effort for missions.

“If the schema has not moved the bishops, much less can we expect it to move generals of orders and congregations. I am certain this cold list of propositions will never inspire superior generals of religious orders of men or (which is perhaps something more) superior generals of nuns, to send their subjects on missions, filling their places in schools and hospitals at home with suitable lay people.”

He said missionaries had expected a “Pentecostal light” from the council and had been offered “this little candle.”

Missionaries had asked for modern weapons and had been offered a document of “bows and arrows.”

“We asked for bread and they gave us, I do not say a stone, but a few cold propositions from a tract on missiology,” he continued.

He returned to Ezechiel’s vision of the bones. “I am convinced that we can and we will put flesh and nerves on the bones contained in this schema. Do not leave them here as they are. Breathe into them the breath of life,” he urged.

Then the eloquent Irishman drew on the eloquence of the Bible.

“Ezechiel saw and ‘beheld the sinews and the flesh came upon them and the skin was stretched over them, and the Lord said: Come Spirit, from the four winds and blow upon these slain and let them live again. … And the Spirit came into them, and they lived; and they stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army.’”

While council Fathers clapped and shouted their appreciation, the day’s moderator, Joseph Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany, interrupted to remark dryly that the speaker should deal with specific points and council Fathers should refrain from applause.

(Several German bishops later protested to Cardinal Doepfner about his remarks. It was pointed out that debate was on the mission document in general.)

The day’s meeting opened with a Mass of the Blessed Virgin celebrated by Archbishop Carlos Jurgens Byrne of Cuzco, Peru. Music was provided by students of the Latin American College. The Gospel was enthroned by Archbishop John McCarthy of Kaduna, Nigeria.

The council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, told the assembly he had received a letter from a council Father asking why no public recognition had been made of the dedicated and tireless ushers of the council. Archbishop Felici replied that since these ushers are members of his secretariat, it seemed poor taste for him to praise his own staff publicly. Nonetheless, he said, he wished to give homage to their work. Council Fathers applauded.

At the end of the day’s debate Archbishop Felici announced that discussion on the Church’s missionary activity would wind up on Nov. 9 and that the council would resume its interrupted debate on schema 13 on the Church in the modern world.

(It was stated at the U.S. bishops’ press panel that a vote would be taken Nov. 9 on whether the text should be sent back to commission. If council Fathers vote not to send it back to commission for revision, a vote would then be taken on the schema itself.)

Cardinal Frings, after asserting that the Church’s missionary life cannot be compressed into a few propositions, suggested that the subject be given “vaster” treatment and held for discussion until the council’s fourth session.

He urged that the term mission be used in one sense only, not analogically. He would reserve its use for areas where Christ is being preached for the first time and not apply it to de-Christianized areas of the Church.

He backed the idea of a central mission board (or mission senate) advanced in the document, and urged annual worldwide collections for the missions.

Cardinal Alfrink complained that the schema treats the missionary vocation briefly and in passing. He said that the matter is treated more adequately in the schema on the nature of the Church. The work of evangelization has hardly begun, he said, pointing to 2 billion human beings who have not learned of Christ. The cardinal also pointed out that missionary vocations have decreased in recent years.

Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels requested the revision and strengthening of several points of the document. He lamented the dearth of mention of the laity in the text, and its silence on the need for forming a self-sufficient local laity, with missionaries progressively loosening their grip on local responsibility.

Bishop Dieudonne Yougbare of Koupela, Upper Volta, asked for a real dialogue between those who provide for the missions and those who receive. He said such a dialogue should take place in an atmosphere of real equality, not smacking of a rich man speaking to a beggar.

He called for the creation of a pontifical institute for the formation of catechists, to be named after St. Paul (just as the pontifical institute for the formation of native priests is named after St. Peter).

Archbishop Bernardin Gantin of Cotonou, Dahomey, returned to the often discussed problem of the relation of missionary effort to local cultures. The African prelate said that while the Church cannot be bound by any one culture, it must make a contribution to the culture of the country in which it is working, and in turn receive benefits from that same culture.

Bishop Geise asked the council Fathers to charge the Commission on Missions with preparing a completely new schema, taking into account the observations offered by the Fathers between the second and third sessions.

He said this desire is shared by 75 superiors general of missionary congregations and 25 episcopal conferences.

Auxiliary Bishop Cipriano Kihangire of Gulu, Uganda, echoed Bishop Yougbare’s plea for fuller training of catechists, whom he described as the ears, eyes and hands of the priests. Catechists are a question of life or death in many places, he said. He asked for a pontifical association for catechists.

Bishop Pietro Massa, exiled from the Nanyang diocese in China, also said catechists deserve more than just two lines in the text. The Italian missionary prelate described the text as “good but only juxta modum” (with reservations). Like several others in this debate, he touched on the need for allowing converts to preserve whatever is good in their culture.

Bishop Carretto lamented the disappearance from the text of the proposal that dioceses in Christian countries adopt “twin” dioceses in mission countries.

Bishop Peter Moors of Roermond, the Netherlands, speaking for the Dutch hierarchy, asked for a theological treatment of missionary activity which, he said, is lacking in the text.

Bishop Velasco suggested that if the document must remain in its abbreviated form, it should be incorporated into the schema on the pastoral duties of bishops. He also urged great tact in all expressions referring to the people with whom missioners come in contact.

Father Grotti criticized the mission document for a tendency to shy away from a direct solution to a problem. He recalled that the commission’s reporter had explained the previous day that the document avoided the definition of a mission because the experts could not agree. He suggested that the experts be sent to the missions for a while and then they will know what a mission is.

He also suggested a rearrangement of the Church’s central administration of the missions, with the Consistorial Congregation working in closer collaboration with the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. He also suggested that the latter be renamed the Congregation for New Churches.

Bishop Jean Gahamanyi of Butare, Rwanda, emphasized that a bishop must be the center of unity in his diocese. While he must recognize the spirit of each religious institute in his diocese, Religious in turn must train their people to recognize the bishop as the head and center of all apostolic activity.

Bishop Riobe replied to a remark of Father Grotti that some diocesan priests and laymen in the missions have proved to be tourists rather than real missioners. He said several bishops who are Religious and several who are not wished to express their regret at that remark.

He called the mission text acceptable provided it could be explained by a supplementary decree drawn up from the observations which bishops had sent in on the earlier schema.

Bishop Moynagh, after saying that the document is not adequate and should be redone, also appeared to reply to Father Grotti, saying his diocese was staffed by 150 Irish diocesan priests. He said public thanks should be given to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, to hierarchies at home, for the hidden sacrifices of the faithful, to families who have given sons and daughters to the missions.

Bishop Stanislaus Lokuang of Tainan, Formosa, who had given the commission’s report on the document to the council, said that while it was not usual for the reporter to speak on his own document, he thought some observations on conversions and faith might be useful.

He said the problem of conversion is fundamental because it touches the very nature of the apostolate and explains many of the difficulties arising in some new Christian communities. Although conversion by nature involves some break with the past, this need not entail a break with the national culture as such, but only with elements that are out of harmony with the Christian religion. Faith, he said, progresses through instruction and grace grows through the sacraments.

Patrick Riley
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

* * * *

A cardinal interrupted ecumenical council discussion in an effort to clarify a speech he had made on marriage problems and to deny that he had questioned authentic Church teaching in this field.

Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels said that a “misunderstanding in public opinion” had led many to interpret his council talk of Oct. 29 as an affirmation that Church teaching on birth control would be changed.

A report on that talk by the council press office described the Belgian cardinal as asserting that there is reason to believe that the Church’s traditional outlook on marriage problems has been too one-sided.

The council press bulletin paraphrased him as saying: “Our insistence on the command ‘to increase and multiply’ may have caused us to forget that this is not the only text in Sacred Scripture and that another passage, stating that a husband and wife ‘become two in one flesh,’ is also contained in Revelation and thus is equally divine in origin.

“We still have much to learn. No one can ever presume to exhaust the inexhaustible riches of Christ. We may well wonder if our theology texts have gone into every last detail and exhausted every possibility.”

Cardinal Suenens returned to this subject in an aside to a talk on mission problems. He declared:

“May I be permitted on this occasion to reply briefly to certain reactions of public opinion which interpreted mv speech on the ethics of marriage as if I affirmed that the Church’s doctrine and discipline had been changed.

“As regards doctrine, as was clearly stated, there was question only of a study to be made in this connection, not to re-elaborate what has already been authentically and definitively proclaimed by the Church’s teaching authority, but rather in view of formulating a synthesis of all principles governing this subject.

“On the question of discipline, the conclusions of the commission will have to be submitted to the Holy Father and judged by his supreme authority, as was expressly stated.

“Hence it is obvious that the methods to be followed in these studies and research depend solely on this same authority. All this is said to dissipate any misunderstanding in public opinion.”

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