Christ’s Missionary Mandate, Role of Laity Highlighted at Council Session

148th General Congregation
October 13, 1965

Dressed in the colorful robes of an African tribesman, a lay auditor from Togo stood before the world’s bishops in the ecumenical council and pleaded for recognition of the layman’s role as a witness to the Gospel in mission lands.

Speaking in French, Eusebe Adjakpley thanked council Fathers on behalf of his fellow auditors for the document on the Church’s missionary activity. He said it would add “indispensable teaching and a new call” to the layman’s role in the Church.

His words, he continued, were spoken “in the name of a great number of lay people — men and women, youth and adults, married couples also — who desire, in the diversity of their vocations, to place their witness and their skills at the service of the Church’s mission of evangelization.” To youth especially, “born into a world which was already on the way to unification, already conscious of new destinies … full of enthusiasm for tasks of development, for building up civil society,” he addressed through the council a call to be “at least equally committed to the essential task of the Christian: bringing Christ to the world and the world to Christ.”

Although the council agenda called for the beginning of discussion on the last council document still to be debated — the one on priestly life and ministry — only the report on that document was read before closing time since 10 Fathers invoked “the 70 signature rule” to continue debate on the schema on the Church’s missionary activity. Cloture on this discussion had been voted the previous day, but according to council rules a speaker may continue debate after cloture if his request to speak is backed by the signatures of 70 other council Fathers.

In the final balloting on the schema on priestly formation (seminaries) the Fathers completed council work on this document by an overwhelming vote of approval — 2,196 to 15, with one null vote.

After distribution of a report on the amended document on Christian education, balloting began on its amendments.

Three of the day’s speakers were preoccupied with striking a balance between the merging ecumenical spirit, given great impetus by the council’s own document on the subject, and the prevailing Gospel directive to preach the truth of the Gospel to all peoples. Although they deplored the scandal resulting from the rivalry among Christian missionaries of various faiths, they also saw the need to avoid the idea that “one religion is as good as another.”

The superior general of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Father Omer Degrijse, C.I.C.M., said the division among Christian confessions “weakens and obscures the witness borne by the missionary.”

He said he wanted a clearer statement of the link between the council’s pronouncement on ecumenism and this one on missionary activity which would demonstrate the harmony possible and necessary between the two. To assure ecumenical cooperation among missionaries, he asked for congresses and encounters to produce greater mutual understanding for the use of common means, such as the press, schools and hospitals, for cooperation in combating social evils like racism, civil conflicts and immorality, and for cooperation even in the work of evangelization.

Regarding the last, however, he cautioned against the danger of confusing this practical cooperation with theological indifferentism. The ecumenical movement progresses not only with theological dialogue, he said, but “principally with concrete steps such as those taken by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI.”

Bishop Jean Van Cauwelaert, C.I.C.M., of Inongo, the Congo, saw in the rivalry among different religions in missionary areas a “cause for scandal and immense harm to evangelization.” To avoid this, he said, he wanted the text to base missionary activity clearly on “the solid foundation of the will of God to which all are called to correspond.” The will of God, transmitted by Christ to His Church, he said, is to “gather all into the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ.” Such a motive merits consideration as the determining factor and perfection of all missionary activity, he said.

This need for ecumenical dialogue must apply to the laity in mission areas as well as to priests, said Bishop Laurentius Satoshi Nagae of Urawa, Japan. Deploring what he called the schema’s almost exclusive concentration on missionary societies and on the obligation of already established areas of the Church to foster missionary activity, he asked for a clearer statement on the role of the local clergy and people in mission areas to become “visible signs of the presence of Christ.”

Close contacts must be established between established areas and newly emerging missions of the Church for their mutual enrichment, he said. Greater stress must be placed on the importance of ecumenical dialogue between the local clergy and laity and their non-Christian neighbors. Seen in this light, “missionary charism is not the exclusive concern of the missionary institutes” but is also the concern of the native People of God.

Speaking of what he called the practical necessity of “filthy lucre,” Bishop John de Reeper of Kisumu, Kenya, asked that missionaries be liberated from the necessity of wandering the world begging money for their work.

He suggested either an annual assessment on all dioceses based on the doctrine of collegiality or else a “twinning” of dioceses. In this program, already in use in some parts of the Church, a financially stable diocese “adopts” a needy missionary diocese or territory, supplying financial aid and often priests and lay missionaries on a temporary or permanent basis.

Bishop de Reeper spoke of the time-consuming labors expended by missionaries in writing thousands of letters to request financial aid and in traveling the world on begging tours — time, he said, which could better be devoted to preaching the Gospel. Unless a solution to this practical problem can be found, he concluded, a missionary’s vocation will continue to be “first collect and then preach.”

The council’s 148th general meeting opened with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Adolph Schmitt of Bulawayo, Rhodesia, after the Gospel had been enthroned by Bishop Jean Rupp of Monaco. The day’s moderator was Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy.

Results of the previous day’s vote on the general acceptability of the missions schema as a basis for further revision were announced during the morning’s session: yes, 2,070; no, 15.

Although the large number of speakers on the missions schema prevented the beginning of the scheduled debate on the document on priestly life and ministry, Archbishop Francois Marty of Rheims, France, read the commission’s report on it before adjournment.

The commission’s desire, he said, was to set forth the pastoral mission of the priest and to show how this mission illuminates and unifies the life and ministry of the priest. This ministry is presented as essentially linked with Christ’s call to His Apostles, he said, and it has universal scope because its dimensions are the same as that of the mission of the Church.

The priest is never an isolated individual, he said. With other priests he forms the “presbyterium of the bishop” and carries on his work in constant contact with the laity. The foundation of his holiness and the food for his spiritual life are to be found in his pastoral mission, which he exercises in the person of Christ and the Church. The archbishop concluded by noting that the schema keeps to general norms, leaving their practical application to national bishops’ conferences.

The council’s secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, announced that since the list of speakers on this document, the last scheduled for council debate, was already long and might become longer, there would have to be a council meeting the following Saturday (Oct. 16) — “even Monday (Oct. 18) if necessary” — to complete it before next week’s scheduled recess. The council ordinarily does not meet Saturday and was scheduled to recess for a week starting Oct. 18.

Bishop Jules Daem of Antwerp, Belgium, read the summary of the report which had been distributed on the amended text of the Christian education schema. He said the document had been greatly amplified in response to requests expressed last year by several Fathers. Taking into account other documents of the council, the new text gives greater emphasis to modern problems in Christian education, he said, not with the purpose of presenting a complete treatment of the subject but of preparing the foundation for the post-conciliar commission on education suggested in the text.

More emphasis is placed in the revised text on the primary duty of the family in education, he said, and on the rights and obligations of parents, civil society and the Church. Particular stress is laid on the mission of the Catholic school in Christian education, he added. With the call for cooperation among all educators, the schema reminds Catholics of their obligation to make the advantages of education available to all men, not only their co-religionists.

The central theme, he said, is that education is a duty which is eminently human and even sacred. Christian education does not consist merely of the personal and community formation of the baptized nor merely in the possession of human culture, he concluded, but demands growth in the spirit of Christ to be considered truly Christian.

Then the Fathers began voting on various amendments which had been made to the text since last year’s vote of general acceptability.

The day’s first speaker was Archbishop Charles Heery of Onitsha, Nigeria. To be a missionary in the full sense of the word, he said, “one must found a new church where Christ was hitherto unknown.” He cited in support of this definition the practice of St. Paul, who made it a point never to go where he would be “building on another man’s foundation.” He said Christ’s missionary mandate must be understood not only extensively (preaching everywhere) but also intensively (observing the commandments as witness to the Gospel).

Bishop Gianni Gazza for Abaete de Tocantins, Brazil, disagreed with Archbishop Heery’s insistence that the “mission” is the locality where the Gospel has not yet been preached. He asked that the commission try to work out a definition of mission which would include all real missionary activity. As an example of this he singled out Latin America, where there are some 130 ecclesiastical territories which carry on missionary activity, yet for various reasons none of them are “missions” in the strict sense since they are preaching to believers.

Singling out various mission aid societies, Bishop Jean Gay of Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, said they had done “incalculable good for the missions in the past and can continue to do so.”

He warned that many young people who might feel the attraction of a missionary vocation are becoming discouraged because of the growing trend to teach that the chief aim of missionary activity is not preaching the Gospel but preparing those human conditions which will make acceptance of the Gospel possible.

Bishop John Velaseo of Amoy, China, said he thought the text is too heavily weighted with “new theology,” particularly in stressing the communitary aspects of missionary life to the neglect of the individual aspects of salvation. He said he found doctrinal principles expressed vaguely and lending themselves to the danger of a false optimism and “indefensible theologies.”

So much stress has been laid at this council on human dignity, he said, that it is surprising to find it apparently forgotten here in the emphasis on the role of missionary activity “in the evolution of world history” rather than in its relationship to the Church and individual salvation.

The superior general of the Pontifical Foreign Missionary Institute of Milan, Italy, Bishop Aristides Pirovano, asked for a change in the practice of turning diocesan-founded missionary institutes into organizations exempt from control by local bishops. About 15 such institutes of diocesan priests have been founded in modern times, he said, and new provisions should be made in the Church’s law for these to remain more closely connected with the diocese in which they originated. Among other advantages, he said, this would stimulate greater personal interest among the diocese’s clergy and faithful.

Bishop Peter Han Kong-Ryel of Jeom Ju, Korea, disagreeing with some of the previous day’s speakers, said he saw the missionary vocation as one binding for life, whether the missionary works directly under the authority of the local bishop, in a missionary institute, on temporary loan from another diocese or as a member of a religious congregation to which the mission area has been entrusted.

Each of these phases of the missionary vocation, he said, has its special problems — particularly jurisdictional — and the commission would “render invaluable service to all missionaries” if it could propose some principles which would serve as a basis for their solution.

The lay auditor, Adjakpley, was the last to speak.

“The world in which we are is the world of schema 13,” he said, referring to the council’s document on the Church in the modern world. It is “a world which is becoming one, a world in which every man, of every race and nation, is becoming more aware of his dignity and is less ready than formerly to bear the inequalities and injustices from which he suffers. It is a world in which the process of unification is giving to every people a keener sense of its own personality — and of its need not only to receive, but also to make its presence felt and to give.

“It is a world in which hundreds of millions of men are living in regions where the Church is scarcely present, but a world also in which traditionally Christian countries are going through a radical de-Christianization, and where — on all continents — important sectors of human endeavor are developing without any apparent reference to religious thought and experience.

“In this world we are conscious that ‘the mission’ is everywhere.”

Summing up the debate, Father Schuette thanked the Fathers for their observations which, he said, reflected wide interest in the missions. He promised the use of Scripture in the text would be restudied because of the criticisms expressed. He thanked both Adjakpley and one of the council’s official observers who had submitted suggestions in writing.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome correspondent


* * * *

Votes were taken on groups of amendments to the schema on Christian education, and all were approved by large majorities. The results were:

Vote 1 — the grave importance of education in human life and its growing influence on social progress — yes, 2,117; no, 85.

Vote 2 — on the nature of education and the universal right to education — yes, 2,098; no, 96.

Vote 3 — on Christian education in particular — yes, 2,105; no, 76.

Vote 4 — on those responsible for education — yes, 2,007; no, 111.

Vote 5 — on various aids to Christian education — yes, 2,020; no, 85; null, 3.

Vote 6 — on the importance of the school — yes, 2,000; no, 83; null, 5.

Vote 7 — on the rights and duties of parents, including a statement on federal aid to education — yes, 1,961; no, 99; null, 3.

Vote 8 — on moral and religious education in all schools — yes, 1,956; no, 19; null, 5.

Vote 9 — on Catholic schools — yes, 1,977; no, 102; null, 4.

Vote 10 — on various kinds of Catholic schools — yes, 2,068; no, 16; null, 3.

Vote 11 — on Catholic faculties and universities — yes, 2,043; no, 132; null, 5.

Vote 12 — on faculties of sacred sciences — yes, 2,095; no, 87; null, 2.

Vote 13 — on coordination in the educational field, and conclusion — yes, 2,079; no, 100; null, 2.

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