Growing in Strength

May 26, 2012

The Catholic Church is growing in strength in the Southern hemisphere.

Making a budget is about trying to ensure that you can do the things you want/need to do with the resources that are available. For the Columbans as we make our annual budget at this time of year we are aware that spreading the Gospel is a task that is growing in complexity and a challenge while our resources, funds and personnel, are diminishing despite the continued generosity and commitment to mission of our existing benefactors.

When the Columbans set up the mission office in Lower Hutt in 1943 the task was to continue to provide the society with finances and personnel for mission. To be successful in both of these areas it also needed to communicate a vision of mission that would capture the imagination and hearts of people.

Judging by the long term and generous support we have received from our benefactors and a total of 51 New Zealand born Columbans the early ground work was superbly done. Now in 2011 we are still raising funds but the last Columban ordinations here were in 1987 – Fr Leo Schumacher (Japan) and Fr Pat McMullan (Korea).

This situation along with doing the budget causes me to take particular notice of some of the points made by John L. Allen in his book “The Future Church”.

When we look at the Church worldwide we find that the majority of the world’s Catholics now live in Africa, Asia and South America, what he calls “The South.” Here the church continues to grow and vocations to flourish. In parts of Africa the big issue is how to manage all the students that want to enter the seminary. A related issue mentioned by Allen is that many of these students once ordained are moving to the North to fill gaps caused by the lack of vocations there. This runs contrary to good budgeting principles which say you should direct your resources to where the greatest need exists. That is still in the South which has two-thirds of the Catholic population but just one third of its priests.

One of the more interesting points he makes is that “the more a church is seen as local the greater it’s potential for long term growth”. In China a major issue and stumbling block for the church is that it was seen as a Western import.

By contrast the Catholic Church in Korea began with local lay people and this is named by Kirsteen Kim in her book, “The Holy Spirit in the World” as a significant factor in its growth. When the French Missionary Fr Petitjean arrived in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1860 he discovered a group of Catholics who had survived a 200 year period of persecution and isolation without a priest. They had maintained the faith and passed it on from generation to generation.

Built on this local foundation the Catholic community in Nagasaki thrived in the years that followed. This community, having survived persecution and isolation, saw half of its population killed when the atomic bomb was dropped over their Cathedral on August 9, 1945.

So is the bottom line here that the day of the foreign missionary is over? Not at this point but circumstances have certainly changed. What was once a one way process with the North sending personnel and funds and the South receiving them has now become a process of mutual exchange between local churches. The funds and personnel that we send are still helpful to churches as they transition from being heavily dependent on overseas personnel and funds to becoming increasingly self-governing, self-nurturing, self-sustaining and missionary. As this happens the long term prospects for growth should be good to judge by Allen’s comment.

However, I am left wondering why this seems to be true of the South but not so true of the North?

Fr Patrick O’Shea lives at St Columbans Lower Hutt, New Zealand.