Reviving a Sense of Mission
Not long ago, I was asked to write an article on a papal apostolic prayer. I used to think of such prayers as long and windy, padded with unpronounceable words and hardly intelligible. This one is different: “That the Church may be a ‘home’ for all people, ready to open its doors to any who are suffering from racial or religious discrimination, hunger, or wars forcing them to emigrate to other countries.”
In a few words, it sums up a vital aspect of the mission of Jesus Christ—that all people, of all races, colors and creeds would live in harmony in one family under God’s care and protection as if in a loving home. The doors were to be open to all who come with good intentions — the sick, the hungry, the refugees, the asylum seekers, those deprived of dignity, the downtrodden wretched of the earth, the abused and victimized of this world.
The door is open to them day and night and also for the sinners to repent and to come asking forgiveness and be willing to accept penance.
One example of this brave new world is the story of Hakim, a Muslim teenager, who was driven from his village by war and became a refugee and a migrant in the city. As a street child, Hakim was arrested and suffered abuse and hunger in jail and was forgotten.
The Catholic social workers who found him and worked for his release and recovery are an example of that prayer in action.
The workers opened the prison doors for Hakim and welcomed him into God’s family. They healed his wounds and gave him a new life. This is the mission of Jesus in today’s world, the prayer being answered and fulfilled.
This openness came from the mission of Jesus and is reflected in prayer; it is to bring life and salvation to the victims of all kinds of human rights violations. The insistence by Jesus that all persons are equal in God’s kingdom, that all are God’s children, loved equally and without discrimination caused Him to be castigated and falsely accused by the religious authorities of His day.
Jesus wanted heaven on earth, an end to injustice, hunger and discrimination, and He prayed that His Father’s will “be done on earth as in heaven.” The kingdom of justice that Jesus wished for all mankind was for this life, not only in the next life, and the privileged ruling authorities in Jerusalem were all too aware of the power, impact and danger to them in that message.
Jesus brought into the world a new life-changing set of values centered on relationship between God and humankind. It uplifted knowledge and awareness on the dignity of individual persons as God’s children with inalienable rights. Two thousand years ago, it was expressed beautifully in the Magnifi cat and the Sermon on the Mount. Yet all such life-giving human rights values were from time to time suppressed by church and civil authorities alike throughout periods of history.
In fact it is only in this generation that we see the prayer being more fully answered in unexpected ways and venues. These human values and rights are being recognized in international laws by the United Nation’s conventions and protocols, and many nations are incorporating them into their laws and practice.
We see the International Criminal Court holding accountable the perpetrators of heinous and unspeakable crimes against humanity. Universal justice is spreading at an increasing pace. Respect for individual and community rights and values is slowly being implemented and is empowering individuals, communities and organizations to work for the transformation of their own societies.
We see too the challenge that lies ahead as some nations are oppressive and discriminatory to asylum seekers and refugees fleeing violence and economic hardship. Openness and fair sharing of a nation’s resources and wealth with the poor and exploited has to be fair and balanced. All Christians need to revive their sense of mission, put their faith into action and deeds and work to make that papal prayer a reality today.
Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.
The article originally appears in the December 2010 issue of Columban Mission.