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The needs of the world                                                                                                                         Luc Colla, cicm
                                                                              General Councilor

Among the tasks of the General Chapter our Constitutions mention: “It makes an effort to recognize the missionary needs of the world and the concrete demands these needs impose on the Institute (Art. 110).  Since the official launching of the 15th General Chapter, much preparatory work has been done on all levels of the Congregation.

Nevertheless it is worthwhile to keep focused on the frequently returning news items of the last months and discern what they are telling us about the missionary needs of the world. The year 2016 was indeed marked by a succession of startling and appalling happenings. For some they might be cause to give way to hopelessness and lethargy. As missionaries we take them as a challenge to focus on what the actual needs of the world are and how we could realistically respond to them.

The plight of refugees

The heartbreaking plight of innumerable refugees often made headline news and claimed the world’s attention throughout 2016.  It is an old and ongoing story but last year it was again painfully brought to the world’s attention because of the many refugees who perished at sea or were stranded in camps in unworthy human conditions. The former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) computed that every day 34,000 people are forcibly displaced from their home bringing their total number to 65 million worldwide, among them more than 21 million refugees.

The threat of terrorism

During past months and years terrorist attacks happened with a frightening frequency and appalling cruelty. People hear and read about these attacks. But they take place so often that they are quickly forgotten unless they happen close at home. The presence of terrorists and the threat of terrorist attacks have become an unwillingly accepted possibility or reality of everyday life. Ban Ki-moon reminded us that, “Far too many victims of terrorism all over the world have suffered in silence, a neglect that compounds their trauma and wounds.”

Global warming

Global warming with its disastrous consequences for present and future generations is fiercely discussed in various conferences and seminars around the world. Scientific proofs of the rapid disappearing of Arctic ice, the melting of glaciers and mountain snows, and the upsurge in the amount of extreme weather events have not yet achieved the essential and crucial change of mentality and lifestyle of the masses.

Pope Francis wrote: “Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity” (Laudato sii, n°14).

Human trafficking and discrimination

Hitherto humankind has not succeeded in curbing or putting to a halt the awful and reprehensible realities of human trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse, discrimination against and exploitation of individuals and groups of people. Governments and multinational corporations have consistently and miserably failed to let people share equally in this world’s goods and to close the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. People have lost their faith in politics and politicians, and in banks and big business because of their self-serving interests, their unabashed self-promotion, and their unquenchable thirst for profit and power.

To restore people’s hope by working for JPIC

Many people have become fearful of the future and believe that the world is heading toward a global catastrophe. Like the Apostles during the storm on the lake, they raise their hands to heaven and call out, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And the Lord answers them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” (Mt. 8:25-26) Saint Paul understood that, “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. (Rm. 8:22-24)

Are we not Christians, and in particular religious missionaries, called to restore hope in the hearts of people, to show that things can be done differently and better? Do the terrifying happenings in today’s world not call for a greater and more urgent commitment to JPIC? “The commitment for justice and peace, for the recognition of the dignity of human life and persons, and likewise the care of creation are constitutive elements of our mission. This means that the mission and the proclamation of the Good News are not complete if this aspect is missing. This has consequences for every confrere, every community and for the Congregation as a whole” (Acts XIVth General Chapter, p.19).

Many JPIC projects have sprouted all over the world. Some started as a private initiative of an inspired person, others resulted from the shared discernment of a well-motivated group or organization. Some started out as small projects and grew into huge movements, others remained small in scope. No single project can answer all of world’s needs or solve its manifold problems. But by joining hands, we make many changes for the better.

Initiatives on local level

In our missionary commitments we can join and support existing JPIC initiatives and projects. What about signing petitions and letters initiated by organizations such as Human Rights, Amnesty International, Pax Christi, Avaaz, and others? What about promoting these and similar initiatives in your community? They cost nothing.

We may not have the means to set up great JPIC projects but we may be able to answer specific local needs. Some little and apparently insignificant JPIC projects may answer particular local needs where larger projects fall short. Pope Francis has given us examples of this, among others: by opening bathrooms with a shower for homeless people, by regularly providing food for them, and more recently, by opening a dormitory for them during the colder nights.

Other small initiatives have been taken, for example the French owner of a restaurant in Paris, who started to welcome homeless people in his establishment for a cup of hot coffee, to warm up during cold winter days, to use the bathroom, or simply to charge a cellphone. Many restaurants owners have already followed this good example. Perhaps we can think of other little projects that may seem to be insignificant and yet be of great help to the needy. 

Nonetheless, more important than JPIC projects are the underlying spirit and attitude that kindle and motivate all JPIC projects. Ultimately these find their roots in God’s plan for creation, for God said: “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Gen. 1:26). As religious missionaries we must acquire and live the Gospel values as the foundation of a better world which Jesus called God’s Kingdom.

Unfailing respect for God, people and creation

Commitment to JPIC begins with us: our unfailing respect for God, people and creation, our deep spirituality, our sober lifestyle, our steadfast empathy, and our unrelenting quest for peace and harmony. Words alone lack the convincing power and moral authority unless spoken and put into practice by a person whose integrity and authenticity are beyond question. Failure to make our community aware of the values and ethics, the demands and needs promoted by JPIC is failure to promote Gospel values; it is failure in our missionary commitment. Doing nothing is not an option!

After speaking of the destruction of the temple, the signs of the end, the imminent great tribulation, and the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus concluded: “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Lk. 21:29-31) May we in this upcoming General Chapter discern the signs of the time so as to recognize the missionary needs of the world and the concrete demands these needs impose on the Institute, for ours is God’s mission.

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