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Friday, 30 June 2023 11:21

Building healthy parishes crucial to a missional Church

MER presentation Albano 550 lighterBuilding healthy parish communities is crucial if the Church is to become truly missional in today’s world, Fr Albano Da Costa said in his presentation for the first of the Divine Word Missionaries’ online lectures on mission.

The six-part ‘Mission and Dialogue Today’ lecture series is an education and ongoing formation initiative of the SVD Australia Province and attracted participants from around the country and around the world.

Fr Albano, who is Lecturer of Mission Studies at Yarra Theological Union, University of Divinity in Melbourne, spoke on the topic of, ‘The Who, What, Where, and How of Mission’.

“I wish to begin this inaugural lecture with a quote from Saint John Paul II as addressed to the Bishops of Oceania: ‘All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion’,” Fr Albano said.

“The phrase ‘a missionary renewal’ … captures my understanding of the potential of the missionary impulse running within the faith community - an impulse to put the Gospel to work in the world in a transforming way.

“The truths the phrase points to have shaped my life and doubtless those of most people present.”

Fr Albano said the title of his presentation came from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation of 2013, Evangelii Gaudium (#27), a document which is his summary of and response to, the synod on the new evangelisation.

MER presentation Albano powerpoint 550“It is a phrase to which Pope Francis returned when he wrote four years later to Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, strongly agreeing to the Congregation’s request for an extraordinary mission month devoted to mission ad gentes,to be celebrated in October 2019.

“Mission ad gentes is understood in the life of the Church as the mission (to) those who have not had an opportunity to hear of Jesus and his saving message of love and invitation to relationship,” Fr Albano said.

“It is an aspect of mission which some have ceased to be serious about - a fact that recent popes have challenged and returned to more than once, for example Pope John Paul II in his great encyclical devoted to the mission ad gentes - Redemptoris Missio 1990 and Pope Francis in his letter to Cardinal Filoni.

Fr Albano said that in that letter, Pope Francis reiterated that the mission ad gentes remains an essential task, and he points to the fact that the missionary nature of the Church draws everyone into the work.

“Far from the age of mission being over, Francis sees mission as ‘only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service’. He speaks of the urgent need to awaken the ordinary and pastoral mission, in the face of tiredness and formalism. The last point, and the wording of it, is of vital importance.”

MER presentation image 550Fr Albano said that the “artificial divide between the missional and pastoral work of the Church which has characterised Church life in so many ways in recent centuries has proved very detrimental to Church life and mission effectiveness”.

“In the light of the renewed mission theology of recent decades, these two elements must be seen to be in a dynamic interconnected relationship.”

Fr Albano said that central to reawakening mission in the life of the Church is to have thriving faith communities at parish level.

“I see the building up of genuine communities within parishes as the greatest challenge we have in our internal Church life and as a consequence in our missional life, because without the support of caring communities individuals drop away or simply give up,” he said.

“It is in the strength of small Christian groupings that the faith is nourished and maintained so that people are empowered for mission.

“Many of our parishes are dying because they are not by any stretch of the imagination a communion of small caring communities.

“To become such involves the “pastoral conversion” called for by Pope Francis. It is the only way members will survive and cope with the pluralism and fragmentation in both Church and society.

“We must come full circle, replicating in our time and place the situation of the communities of the post-Apostolic times when people were drawn to learn more of Jesus Christ and his invitation to life, relationship, and mission, because of their experience of the pastoral strength of the communities they encountered.”

Pastoral conversion goes hand in hand with missional conversion, Fr Albano said.

“The pastoral conversion Pope Francis asks for must occur in dioceses and parishes up and down the land, accompanied by education and formation,” he said.

“It has the potential to reshape faith communities and to propel them beyond themselves in a transforming dynamic capable of generating life, solidarity and hope in Australia and far beyond. In the words of Evangelii Gaudium, it embarks upon a missionary renewal in all of God’s faithful.”

Fr Albano’s presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session with the more than 60 people taking part online.

The next seminar, on Prophetic Dialogue and Interculturality, will take place on Wednesday, July 5 at 7.30pm AEST, featuring missiologist Fr Roger Schroeder SVD, from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, USA.