Text of African Layman’s Council Speech on Missions

This is a translation of the French speech on the missions schema delivered Oct. 13 by Eusebe Adjakpley, lay auditor from Togo.

In the first place, may I say how happy I am, as an African layman, to be speaking on behalf of the lay auditors before this assembly, which includes African cardinals and so many bishops from Africa? The fact that Africa is present here in this way is in itself an indication of what missionary endeavor has done for the Church’s universal implantation. I wish also to pay homage to the missionaries and to all who have given their life and their blood for this mission whether they are from Africa, from Asia or from elsewhere.

The group of auditors desires first of all to express its gratitude to the cardinal moderators who have graciously allowed us to speak again today, in relation to this schema to which we attach particular importance. After the doctrinal riches of the Constitution on the Church, after the new horizons opened up by the Decree on Ecumenism, after the great debates on the lay apostolate and the Church in the modern world, the present schema adds an indispensable teaching and a new call, which we receive with joy and wish to see eagerly welcomed by all lay members of the people of God.

We thank the Fathers who during the debate have stressed the essential relationship between this schema and the other conciliar texts which more directly concern the laity; we thank those who have even asked that our role in missionary activity should be still more clearly outlined.

We know that the world of today is a very different world from the one in which the missionary endeavor began, both as regards “Christian” countries and as regards “mission” countries. The world in which we are is the “world of schema 13,” 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; 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 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.

If the mission is everywhere, we know, too, that the missionaries are called from all countries and from all the groups which make up the Church. And we are sure that we can speak here 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. All can and must cooperate in this mission: the schema makes it clear. But always more numerous are those who are aware of being called in a special way to this service: whether they be indigenous lay people from the so-called mission countries working in their own country as catechists or as members of the various apostolic groups which are everywhere growing up; or lay people from the Christian countries who, whether as lay missionaries, or indirectly, in all kinds of social or international activities, want to serve the “young” churches; and, finally, the laity of mission countries, who can become missionaries in their turn, not only at home, but also in countries which are close to them physically and spiritually, and indeed, wherever the Church needs them. We feel, too, that the present debate will help many more lay people to become aware of this call to missionary endeavor to bear the witness of Christian leaven and to try to make the Church’s presence effective as a leaven in society.

We wish to appeal in a special way to youth, whether of mission countries or of Christian countries. They were born into a world which was already on the way to unification, already conscious of new destinies. They are full of enthusiasm for tasks of development, for the building up of civil society. They must be able to feel at the same time at least equally committed to the essential task of the Christian: bringing Christ to the world and the world to Christ.

For us, as lay people, the ecumenical aspect is also of special importance, as the conciliar Decree on Ecumenism clearly points out. Together with all men of good will we have to build up the earthly city. Together with all believers we must endeavor to give expression in society to spiritual values. Together with all our brothers in Christ we are called to bring to society the Gospel leaven, to bring — to all men, our brothers — the knowledge of one same Christ, Lord and Saviour.

We thank you, venerable fathers, for letting us hear this call. We ask you, and we ask our priests to help us answer it. We ask the laity — men and women, youth and adults — of all lands, those especially who have been more richly endowed, to become aware of their responsibility and, obedient to the Holy Spirit, to “communicate to their brothers the gift of faith.”

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