Meaning of the Word Mission

Pope Francis kisses the hand of Alma Desjarlais of Frog Lake First Nation at the Edmonton Airport.

The Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Praedicate evangelium, came into effect on the Solemnity of Pentecost. Significant to our interest is the unification of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization into the Dicastery for Evangelization.

The heads of both are now pro-prefects, reporting directly to the Pope. They act with the pope’s authority, for the service of certain churches. Pope Francis is serious about evangelization. What is noteworthy about the term ‘dicastery’ is the principle that every baptized person is a missionary disciple who can be appointed to the Curia in the service of the Pope. What started as a shift with Benedict XV now has reached the Church’s governing body.

This is the final article on the Meaning of Mission. As we’ve seen, the Church now uses ‘evangelization’ instead of mission. The relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity now describes every baptized person’s role, in that evangelization is the purpose of the Church, made so by Christ’s commissioning of the Apostles. The latter formed churches, which then sent emissaries to start new faith communities and so on. This process eventually made its way to the Canadas.

We looked at the Greek word apostolos and its Latin derivative mittere (to send) and their religious context. In Scripture, we reviewed the meaning of ‘sending’ as applied to the prophets and apostles. Mission begins with the Trinity, the missio Dei – the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit by the Father to save humanity from evil. We also employed William Larkin’s Elements of Mission to keep us on track.

Jesuits first popularized the word ‘mission’ while converting indigenous peoples during the Age of Discovery. This was a time of worldwide expansion, when the Church affiliated with States for reasons very different from faith sharing. There were heroes and villains – Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas fought for indigenous rights, while Jessé Fleché baptized en masse without instruction. This affiliation with the State brought the Catholic Entities here to accept Sir John A. MacDonald’s plan to destroy Indigenous culture through Indian Residential Schools. While it had its dark side, the Age of Discovery also brought hospitals, schools and social services to New France that would not have otherwise existed. Saints were made here, including the Indigenous Kateri Tekakwitha. The history of the Catholic Church in Canada is rich and we can be proud of much of it, while fully acknowledging that some individuals and institutions committed atrocities. What wrong was done is now in a process of reconciliation. As I travel the country and speak to Indigenous elders, they tell me that it’s time to move on. That fills me with hope.

It’s unfortunate that the Church had to learn the hard way, but this began changing with the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which was a harbinger of positive growth. The Decree Ad Gentes initiated foundational changes in the Church’s expectations of mission work by establishing new principles. St. John Paul II expanded the Church’s mission to include every baptized person in the new evangelization. Today, Pope Francis calls us to be “missionary disciples,” to joyfully live the Gospel. St. Matthew’s phrase, “Go and make disciples of all the nations” is as relevant today as it was for the Apostles. Still, it should be remembered that what is ideal loses something as it’s actualized. We expect the Church to be perfect and forget that it is made up of both saints and sinners.

“Go and make disciples of all the nations”

Pope Francis’ apology is significant since it took place where some Indigenous peoples suffered abuse. Reactions to his words ran the gamut from acceptance to offence that he did not acknowledge the Church’s responsibility for Residential Schools. He certainly made clear that healing and reconciliation is a process that will take time and that the Canadian Bishops want to “walk” with them to bring it about. There was also discussion about abrogating the Doctrine of Discovery (see article later in this Issue). Whatever your take on the Papal visit, Francis fulfilled the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #58. The apologies in Edmonton, Québec City and Iqaluit are apropos for the end of our series.

Healing and reconciliation is a process that will take time

How does this all apply to CMIC? As I visit our home missions, I realize what once was. I’ve heard stories of priests who were made elders because of their dedication to and care for their people. So many Oblates, Jesuits and others, including female religious, gave their lives to these missions and did great work, often being adopted into bands. They are unsung heroes. Others committed crimes.

CMIC was formed in 1908 to: raise and disburse funds; create awareness of mission needs in Canada; and educate about Canadian missions. The term ‘Mission’ in our name is bound by our articles of incorporation and refined by our funding history. Bishops apply to our Allocation Committee for grants/bursaries. If their financial statements show that their missions and diocese/eparchy don’t have sufficient funds for missionary sustenance, property maintenance, catechetical training, lay leadership formation or seminarian subsidy, funding is disbursed to them according to the budget set by our Finance Committee. Over 60% of our funding goes to Indigenous communities. We do not engage in political or theological discussions about missions. However, whatever happens politically, theologically, socially or economically affects the communities we fund.

Practically speaking, few contemporary missionaries stay long enough in Canada to establish trust. Members of missionary orders sent here have some training in evangelization. Diocesan priests also volunteer to minister in Canada. Some are given a course in enculturation or language. The result is a mixed bag. These are men and women who mainly come from equatorial countries with different languages, cultures and visions of the Church.

Teslin, Yukon residents Trudy Moessner, Annie Johnston, Jim Kirk and Carl Smarch at Papal Mass.

Imagine being transplanted after lengthy travel to the isolation and harshness of the Canadian North. It takes a certain character to thrive in such conditions and bishops keep candidates close for evaluation. Missiological programs for missionary training, as prescribed in magisterial teaching, is hit and miss. Sometimes it’s contained in other courses, such as Ecumenism. My understanding is that only St. Peter’s Seminary in London, ON offers a course in Missiology, but I could be wrong.

One would think that this training would be a priority. Canada is a missionary country among developed nations and should be a centre of excellence. We don’t have statistics on how many foreign missionaries we have, but all of Canada receives foreign clergy because there aren’t enough local vocations. The need is there for language, missiology and enculturation training.

However, such endeavors are expensive and seminaries are tight for funds. Along with the 24 dioceses that CMIC funds, our sister organizations fund Indigenous missions in Quebec (Mission Chez Nous) and Churchill-Hudson Bay (Esk-Omi). CMIC has bursaries of $12,000 for seminarians, but the actual cost of study is much higher. Our Endowment Fund was established for this purpose, but the principal is still too low to produce enough income to totally fund the program.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and have learned something. I certainly have. Please pray for our missionaries. Their lives are not easy and God bless them for being here. Remember that you are also a missionary and your mission is your home, workplace and parish.