This is a translation of the address by Bishop Donal Lamont, O.Carm., of Umtali, Rhodesia, delivered (Nov. 7) during the Second Vatican Council discussion of the document on the missions.
I speak in the name of many of the bishops of Africa. The schema as it stands immediately reveals the grave difficulties involved in its preparation. It had a difficult birth, the details of which the relator has been kind enough to explain to us. To him and to all the members of the commission we offer our thanks. As is well known, those children who are born in difficulty and in great pain are more than normally loved, and are even regarded as more beautiful than others born with less hazard. However, the missionary bishops, although they are sensitive of the sufferings of others, expected something else, not bare, simple propositions, but a schema full of sound doctrine and practical proposals, capable of producing in missionaries new energies worthy of their apostolate.
I don’t say there is nothing good in the schema. On the contrary, it has much to recommend it. It is positive in its approach; the propositions are useful; they are necessary; but they are not enough. They could be compared to the substructure of an electricity system comprising pylons, and yet still not connected with the central dynamo, or as if the dynamo itself had not yet been switched on.
The discussion which has here taken place will certainly bring some consolation to us missionary bishops. Yes, the very presence of the Supreme Pontiff yesterday in the aula is a consolation far beyond anything we had hoped for. We missionaries were all thrilled to see His Holiness, the first missionary, sitting amongst us, and for this we offer him from our hearts our most profound thanks. But it will be a dreadful disappointment to us, to our people, and to our missionaries if the glorious missionary work of the Church is to be compressed into a few, naked propositions.
As it stands, the schema will not do. Instead of a strong and virile support, we have nothing in it but dry bones. It brings to mind the vision which the Lord showed to Ezechiel: “The valley was full of bones — and there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry” (Ez. 37, 1-3). May I ask of you what the Lord asked of Ezechiel: “Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.” Dry bones without flesh, without nerves — only God knows whether they will ever live or not.
With all possible reverence may I say that this schema should be completely overhauled. Something better is wanted. We need something alive, something worthy of the Second Pentecost. Without it the whole missionary activity of the Church will lack the dynamism which we expect from the council. It helps us little to tell us that many aspects of missionary activity have been treated elsewhere by the council. What a pity it is that this schema on the missions was prepared before the fundamental schema on the Church, a schema that illuminates all the others. Therefore I say, let it be done over again.
The whole Church now examining itself is waiting for a renewal of the first impulse of the divine command given to the apostles to conquer the world for Christ. We, whose honor and privilege it is to work in the mission countries, we expect from the council a new pledge of serious purpose from all the bishops; a new infusion of zeal; new ardor; new hope of universal cooperation. Forgive me, you theologians, if I still use the term mission territory. How can we not speak of the missionary world when four-fifths of the world’s populations have not yet heard of Christ?
Let me ask you, Venerable Fathers, if this document has already inspired anyone of you to any sacrifice or to any new effort on behalf of the missions? If the schema has not moved the bishops, much less can we expect it to move the generals of orders and congregations. I am certain that this cold list of propositions will never inspire the superiors general of religious orders of men or (which is perhaps something more) the superiors general of nuns, to send their subjects on the missions, filling their places in schools and hospitals at home with suitable lay folk.
Of what use are vague, juridical propositions? Will they fill the hearts of the young with zeal or generosity or a spirit of sacrifice? Did not Our Lord say: “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled”? (Luke 12, 49). This document will set nothing on fire.
Frankly, we are quite disappointed. We hoped to hear the united voice of the council Fathers ringing out to the uttermost ends of the earth in this document; but for that purpose the schema, as it exists now, is as useless as would be a single human voice trying to reach the remote corners of this vast basilica without the aid of a microphone.
We looked to the council for a Pentecostal light which would illumine the minds of men throughout the world — they have lighted this little candle for us!
We asked for modern weapons against the fiery darts of paganism — they offered us in this schema 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.
Venerable Fathers, we want from this Second Vatican Council the inspiration of the Gospel, new apostolic vision, new drive, new united effort. We want to be so filled with zeal that we shall be able to set others on fire. We, the true successors of the apostles, are gathered together here in the Holy Spirit to carry on the very same work which the Lord committed to them. How can we possibly leave this council satisfied with coexistence with a pagan world daily increasing in numbers?
Forgive me, Venerable Fathers, if finally I turn once more to the simile of the bones. I am convinced that we can and 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. Give us something worthy of this Second Pentecost so that, filled with the Holy Spirit in this Council, we may go out from it as did the apostles in the First Pentecost, renewed in strength and faith, to proclaim the wonderful works of God to the farthest corners of the earth.
Ezechiel saw and: “Behold, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin was stretched out 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 up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ez. 37, 8-10).
This is my hope. This is the work that lies before us.