Written by Sherry
Sunday, 30 September 2007 09:33
From Luceat! - a blog of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)come this moving anecdote:
As we began our pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostella, five FOCUS missionaries and six student leaders joined the Benedictine sisters who kept our albergue (hostel) for prayer before we began walking the next day. As the mother superior intoned the ancient prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours, something about her caught my attention. She possessed a beauty that was uniquely feminine and radiated a sense of peace that told me she had a heart that had experienced both profound suffering and profound joy. This was a holy woman.
After vespers, this beautiful bride of Christ spoke with Jason, the missionary that led our pilgrimage. With great sorrow in her expression, she spoke with Jason about the state of the Church in Spain – about the devastation after the Spanish Civil War and about the breakdown in family life and about the mass exodus of young people from the Church and about the profound shortage of priests. “And then I see you,” she said to Jason with a renewed light in her eye “and I have hope.”
She explained to Jason that she and her sisters beg our Lord for a renewal in the church in Spain, but they have not yet seen the fruit of their prayers in the way that they hope. She explained that she sees the Church flourishing in Africa and in India, but that with her understanding of how grace builds on nature, these places do not have the political stability nor the economic means to raise up the other cultures of the world.
“No,” she said, “I believe, as did our beloved John Paul II, that the center of the New Evangelization must be the United States. The new Avila – the new Sienna – the new Assisi - must be your St. Louis, Missouri, your Chicago, Illinois, your Denver, Colorado.” Referencing the story of Joseph in Genesis, which happened to have been the first reading in mass that morning, she suggested that just as the family of God in Genesis was saved from famine through their youngest brother, so would the family of God living at this moment in Salvation History be saved through their “youngest brother,” the faithful disciples of Christ, especially “the dear young people” of the Catholic Church in the United States."
I was struck some months ago by a comment by an evangelical mission leader from Africa. He observed the Holy Spirit is most often visibly active on the periphery, not in the center of powerful institutions. I suppose it's the "can anything good come out of Nazareth" phenomena. Certainly we have found in our travels that almost all effective evangelization going on in the American Church today is happening at the grassroots,parish level. And that there are a lot of wonderfully creative grassroots initatives out there. Could Mother Superior be right? Could the American Catholics be the key to the New Evangelization?
I think she is - with a few caveats: It's true for now - for the next 10- 15 years, perhaps 20 years. Because the third world is catching up with us quickly in terms of stability and economic growth. India has been famously enjoying a economic book over the past decade and even Africa is changing while our eyes are focused upon her many struggles. I read an article in the New York Times observing that three times as many African nations are democracies now than in 1989. Some are fragile but there has been a definite trend. This is probably a crucial moment for the American Church but our unique advantages aren't going to remain unique very long.
In the end, much more important through Christian history than wealth, infrastructure, and political stability is passionate discipleship. The fastest growing Christian community in the world for the past 3 decades has been in China where the growth has often occurred in the midst of terrible persecution and where religious initiatives are still routinely restricted.
Nepal is an excellent case in point. Until 1951, Nepal was completely closed off to all missionary work. In 1960, there was only a handful of known Nepali Christians. The big breakthrough occurred in the early 60’s when two lay evangelists from India crossed the Himalayas to share the Gospel.
By 1970, there were about 7,450 Nepali Christians in an illegal underground movement led by teenagers who were tortured and imprisoned for their faith. In the early 80’s, I remember hearing an evangelical woman missionary just back from Nepal describing the marks of torture still visible on the hands of the young leaders. By the turn of the millennium, there were almost 600,000 Christians in Nepal, most associated with indigenous, New Apostolic movements.
Nepali Christianity is growing so fast that Barrett estimates that the Christian population topped 768,000 by mid-2005 and now makes up 2.8% of the total population. 582,000 or 76% of Nepal’s Christians are Independents. There are only 6,626 known Catholics in the country.
“At least 40 to 60 percent of the Nepali church became Christians as a direct result of a miracle," says Sandy Anderson of the Sowers Ministry. "Most times the people do not know what we are talking about when we preach the gospel. That's why it is very important to demonstrate the gospel. We preach. Then God heals the sick when we pray. The gospel is not only preached but demonstrated in Nepal." (The Church at the Top of the World, April 3, 2000, Christianity Today).
Passionate evangelizers can and will use any cultural or structural opportunities to spread the gospel that present themselves - from the Pax Romana to the internet - but only if they are already burning to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Discipleship, prayer, and apostolic imagination trumps societal stability and technology in this area every time. A man or woman who loves Christ and his Church will find a way to share that love - and the greater the love, the more creative and compelling the sharing will be.
I suspect the good sister is right. A unique opportunity is before the American Church - but only to the extent that we are intentional disciples of Jesus Christ who have taken up and living our apostolic identity and mission.