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7th Ad Gentes group



Message to the Ad Gentes «Davao 2010» group

14/06/2010: General House

At 15th June the formation course for the 7th Ad Gentes group starts in Davao City, Philippines. The Ad Gentes Co-ordinator Br. Teófilo Minga took the occasion to write a message to the whole group. We reproduce it here.

“Dear Brothers Javier, José, Santiago, Gustavo, Ignace; dear friends Abel, Christine, Neiva, Rosana, Agnes, Alice and Manuel

My warm Marist greetings to you all on this feast day of Fr. Champagnat. Here in Italy, it is also the feast of Corpus Christi.

A few days ago, in my meditation, I had the idea of writing you a little message for the beginning of your course. It has been impossible for me to write a longer message, as I would have liked to do, based on my last meditations, in one way or another related to AD GENTES. These meditations are mainly inspired by the daily Liturgy of the Word. And I would like to get this message to you because you are ceaselessly in my prayers and thoughts.

This is a message in three steps.

1. Become bread for others

The feast of the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus inspires these reflections. Also, if you recall, we touched on this theme: « Becoming bread for others » during the Recollection day last month of May for the group then in Manila. In addition to the reflections offered then, I wish to take a more Biblical approach today.

But let us first recall once again nº 107 of our book of Spirituality, Water from the Rock which admirably summarizes the dimension of service to our brothers and sisters from our communities of mission”. A community of mission is a community nourished by the bread of heaven to become the bread of life for others here on earth. Let us listen to the text of Water from the Rock:

“Life together supports and challenges us to be a community of mission. We listen to the invitations of God that flow through our shared life and discern our shared response. Based on a common trust in God, we offer our lives in service. In ministry we find ourselves, like Jesus, broken open for our brothers and sisters. Truly, we are bread of life for others as Jesus has been for us. ” (I underline; see also nº 117).

The bread of the Eucharist never runs out. Luke tells us that Jesus, having spoken to the crowd about the Kingdom of God and cured the sick, does not want to send the crowd away hungry. So he multiplies the loaves and the fish (Lk 9:11 b-17). This first miracle of the loaves is, for John, a clear sign of the Eucharist (Jn 6).

In this Eucharistic perspective, Jesus satisfies the hunger of the crowd and tells us then to do the same: « Do this in memory of me. » Thus, concern about the hunger which afflicts a great part of humanity and the need to struggle against famine are constitutive elements of every Eucharistic celebration.

The first Christian communities already – at the request of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1 - 4, 8 - 9; Rom. 15 :25 - 28) – were accustomed to making collections of goods and money for the poor during the celebration of the Eucharist. But we should not forget that the « hunger of mankind » is not simply a hunger for bread. Bread is simply the symbol pointing to the «hunger for God in the contemporary world, the very concrete world of AD GENTES.

How could I, myself, become bread for others at this time when I am offering myself to mission ad gentes?

2. Promote and give life

When I was in Nairobi, I used to pay a visit from time to time to a community of Brasilian Sisters of Saint Camillus, who had a clinic and a maternity hospital not far from our centre in the town of Ongata Rongai (Brother Antoine would certainly know this town). Almost all the Sisters were from Nova Prata, Porto Alegre or Nova Hamburgo, cities in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. For me it was a good opportunity to speak Portuguese, drink « chimarrão » (a Brasilian drink), have a more « Brasilian » meal, and finish with a beautiful time of shared prayer. Sister Pierina, mistress of novices, enchanted me with her smile and deep spirituality. Even today, when I pass through Nairobi, I do not fail to pay her a visit.

One day I found her without her usual smile. She was moved almost to tears. Knowing this was not normal, I asked her: « Pierina, what has happened? ». Tears streamed down her face. Then, embracing me, she gave me a reply halfway between sadness and joy: « Teofilo, today two infants have been left abandoned on the steps of our maternity wing. » This was not such a rare phenomenon. In fact, visiting the maternity hospital, I saw about 20 children who had been abandoned.

I looked around the children, then I looked Pierina in the eye and said, curious and doubtful: « And so...? ». For a moment she remained silent, then she also looked fixedly at me and said: « So ...we are the ones (the Sisters) who are the real mothers of these children. » I have never forgotten her response: without giving birth the Sisters were truly mothers. It’s true. On returning to the Centre I thought about Pierina’s words. They are the true mothers. Many women give birth to children; some (celibate or not), couples and men, from the love of God which dwells in them, have the capacity to regenerate humanity, to create a new humanity, to refashion completely lives wounded or even destroyed.

All of you, brothers and laity, in mission AD GENTES, are in this group which takes seriously the regeneration of humanity: you will be promoters of life, often maltreated, neglected or quite simply abandoned on the threshold of a hospital.

How do I see myself in train of promoting life now in Davao and in the future mission, where God will soon send me?

3. A heart seized by love for Jesus to announce the Gospel

You may have observed that, during the Passover of « 50 days » which run from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, the Church places before us readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John.

In my meditation on these daily texts, often before the Blessed Sacrament, I have found myself thinking of you. The texts from the Acts (the first reading) often recall to us the chronicle of the missionary adventures of Saint Paul. Isn’t he our protector, the master and undisputed apostle of mission AD GENTES? (Cf. Acts 22:21).

Practically all the texts could be applied to your situation in Davao and in the future territories of mission and apostolate. I have chosen two:

3.1 The first reading of a 18 May: Acts 20:17 - 27 /

This is Paul’s farewell to the elders of Ephesus. It is a text of great tenderness in which Paul affirms having served the Lord « with humility, in tears and in the midst of trials » (v. 19). Couldn’t this be the way you will have to serve the Lord? If it was so for Paul, it may be so for today’s apostles. From many points of view, you are pioneers on our route AD GENTES. And the pioneer in particular (but every missionary, in general) will have to face numerous difficulties.

But what I wish to underline here is the commitment of Saint Paul to proclaim the Gospel beyond the frontiers of Palestine, that is to say, beyond the Jewish world. And he speaks of preaching to the Greeks (vs 21). So Paul was then fully on mission AD GENTES. And he gives himself totally to the Gospel « in obedience to the Spirit » (v. 22). It is in the Spirit of God that he finds strength, despite his weakness. I am often moved by reading and meditating on these texts. It is a matter of an extraordinary spiritual strength (animated by the Spirit!) of the apostle. How beautiful it would be if the AD GENTES Davao 2010 group had the same passion for the Gospel and for Christ. This page reminds us that only a heart in love with God will be ready to suffer for him. It tells us also that every AD GENTES apostolate must be nourished by a great passion for God and a fire within (apostolic zeal) which leads us to encounter our brothers and sisters.

3.2 The first reading of 20 May: Acts 22 : 30 ; 23: 6-11

This reading gives the context in which Saint Paul is sent to the pagan nations (AD GENTES: see Acts 22:21). Verse 23:11 (the last of the reading) is clear and is what I would call a typical AD GENTES verse: The Lord says to Paul: « Courage! You have just rendered witness to my cause in Jerusalem, you must do the same also in Rome ». In a more explicit way than in the reading mentioned above, the Lord himself sends Paul beyond the frontiers of Jerusalem.

Mission AD GENTES is always a mission « beyond the frontiers ».And in three months, it will also be the Lord himself, who will, through appropriate meditations, be saying to you: « Courage ... (name), you have witnessed to me in your country, now I want you to give witness to me in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh ... ». And Christ may even say to each one of you, in a voice full of affection, what he often says in the Gospel: « Don’t be afraid ... I am with you». And you will hear your name, because Jesus loves each one of you in a special way. I am convinced that he must be very pleased with you, thanks to your generosity and your response to his call. You are God’s joy too.

What is interesting in this text is that Paul’s AD GENTES mission to Rome is the consequence of a very abnormal situation. With his trial in Jerusalem an impossibility, he will be taken to Rome to be judged. Then, in the imperial capital, he will begin preaching the Gospel right up to the last days of his life. Great Paul, who fears neither life nor death, neither persecution nor suffering: there is nothing or no one who can silence him: the Gospel is preached in season and out!

The lesson is this, and it should encourage you even in the most difficult moments: it is starting from persecution that the apostles are dispersed; and as a consequence they preach the Gospel outside Jewish areas. In Paul’s case, through his arrest and deportation to Rome, the Gospel is going to « explode » all over the Empire. That has happened at other moments in history. In other words, if we have confidence in the Lord (and certainly we do), even the most dramatic and negative events of existence can offer opportunity for preaching the Gospel, in places undreamed of. From an event dark and sad, at first sight, light and joy can spring.

What is my passion for the Gospel? Is it that my heart is a heart in love with God, and in a very concrete way, a heart in love with this AD GENTES project in particular?

Is it that I feel very close to me the presence of Jesus, giving me courage, even in the most difficult situations I may have to face?

Dear friends, on this day of celebration of the Founder, I wish you all the same zeal as Paul, the same zeal as Champagnat. Do not let the flame of love for God and for your neighbor, which has brought you to this project of mission AD GENTES, go out. On the contrary, let it stay alight so that others, and increasingly, may profit from its light and warm themselves at its heat.

I greet you in friendship and brotherly affection.”

Téofilo, your brother
Rome 6 June 2010 - Feast of Father Champagnat

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