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The community exists for the mission…the mission is to form community

On Tuesday, September 19, the Pontifical Mission Society (PMS) Directors from across the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) gathered for a retreat day in preparation for their first face-to-face meeting since Covid-19. This year, the meeting was held at the Catholic Bible Institute in Caroni from September 18 to 22.  Fr Peter McIsaac SJ facilitated the day-long retreat on the theme The Discerning Heart: Encountering and Sharing God’s Love. The two sessions of the day moved along the lines of an exposition of the theme, personal prayer, small-group discussion, and general sharing.

In the morning, Fr McIsaac focused on the call to Mission and community and wove together that call with the unfolding process of synodality. He began by showing how Mark 3:13-19 is our basic Christian call to both intimacy with the Lord Jesus; to form community with Jesus and to go out to share that community with others; to draw them into that communion. Likewise, the Synod process is one of personal and communal discernment of the Lord’s will for us and for His community, the Church. Fr Peter suggested to the group that the love of Christ and His Church is seen in three  ways: contrition, gratitude and compassion, all essential to church life.  All three are seen in the episode where the infamous woman entered the room in which Jesus was having dinner with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).

The afternoon session reinforced the theme of the Christian community as an evangelising force and more specifically, a force of compassion, mercy, and love.  In the incarnation, God becomes flesh in Jesus; the God of mercy and love becomes human and forms a community and, in His Resurrection, transforms our humanity making it new. The synodal process helps us to discern whether we are in fact becoming more a community of our incarnate and risen Lord embodying His mercy and love or whether we are moving more towards self-absorption and desolation. Our Jesuit guide showed us that the movement towards union with God and greater self-awareness is a movement towards our neighbour.

In the episode between the risen Lord Jesus and Thomas (John 20:24-29), Fr McIsaac explained that it was not simply about a verification of the facts or getting scientific proof but an invitation to all disciples to touch the wounds of the body of Christ. The Church must carry and be aware of the wounds and pain of humanity and touch them with compassion, mercy, and love. This is the Mission.


Day two

By Deacon David Popo-PMS Director, Archdiocese of Castries, St Lucia

On Wednesday, September 20, 2023, a delegacy of local PMS Directors from the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) and Fr Esteban Kross-Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) Regional Director, participated in day-two of the PMS Directors Meeting. The focus of the day was to explore and discuss the broad parameters of ‘what, why’, and the ‘Essentials of Evangelisation’. The highlight of the day’s proceedings was the keynote address delivered by Archbishop of Port of Spain, Charles Jason Gordon.

Archbishop Gordon reminded the delegates that there can be no evangelisation without the intercessory and animating role of the Holy Spirit. It is for this very reason that every Synod of Bishops begins with the invocation of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the Archbishop referenced some of the earliest papal Apostolic Exhortations on evangelisation, such as Evangelii nuntiandi (1975) by Pope Paul VI. In citing Pope Paul V1, Archbishop Gordon emphasised that for the Church, evangelisations means “bringing the Good News into all strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new”. The Archbishop briefly underlined other pertinent apostolic exhortations by Pope Francis, namely, Evangelii gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel, 2013) on the Church’s mission of evangelisation in the modern world. Pope Francis’ exhortation aims at overcoming complacency at every level in the life of every Christian.

The Archbishop articulated the new vision and ecclesial model of Church put forward by Pope Francis through the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Synodality scheduled to commence in October  (first phase) and end with a second phase in October 2024. In his capacity as President of the AEC, Archbishop Gordon will join his other brother bishops throughout the global Church to listen and discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to both the universal and local Churches of the Catholic Church. The Archbishop paralleled it to an “eco-system” approach in contra-distinction to a “top-down” ecclesial model. This has, over the years, prevented the process of meaningful Communion, Mission, and Participation by every baptised Catholic. He referred to the synodal process as “medicine” for the renewal of both the Church and the wider society.

Following Archbishop Gordon’s compelling reflections, the PMS Directors were divided into groups to enter into a “spiritual conversation” on the question: What does the Holy Spirit want of the Church today? Several considerations were discussed and some of the fruits of the spiritual conversations among the PMS Directors were, inter alia:

  • the urgent need to revisit the current ecclesial models of Church;
  • what inner transformation we need to make individually;
  • urgency to listen to the dynamics of the current era;
  • how do we connect to each other within a strategic pastoral framework;
  • need for more openness by the clergy and laity to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us in this era;
  • and a more robust evangelisation approach that is more inclusive and integrated.

The post lunch period of the meeting saw the presentation by PMS Director from the Archdiocese of Kingston, Fr Kingsley Asphall,  on the results of an evaluation of the status of the work of evangelisation and catechesis throughout the AEC. A common thread that emanated from the data collected from the evaluations was that there seems to be a general “lack of zeal and passion” among Catholics (Clergy, Laity) to evangelise. Moreover, it was also noted that there is a sense of pastoral leaders becoming fatigued and overwhelmed because of limited absorptive capacity to take on the mammoth tasks of evangelisation. This led to further conversations on the need for the Church to fully embrace the approach of a more “co-responsibility” approach to ministry by all our leaders in the Church.