James Chukwuma Okoye, CSSp
"Mutual Exchange of Energies" - Mission in Cross-Cultural Perspective - An African Point of View

Fr James C. Okoye, is a Spiritan and Assistant Professor of Bible at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. After a license in Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, Italy, a Master's in Hebrew and a doctorate in Scripture from Oxford University in England, he has been serving his Institute (Religious Order) and the Church in different positions.
In the new context of mission, all have bread to give and to receive. Mission becomes a "mutual exchange of energies" (Ad Gentes, n. 19) among churches and groups. The growth of missionary consciousness in the "Third Church" is outlined, and the possible contribution of this church, particularly the Church of Africa, is detailed. For the first time in centuries, the Gospel is being transmitted without its Western cultural embodiment, making more urgent the demand that the Church become truly catholic, identified with no particular culture. The heart of mission is shown to be a humble and transforming dialogue of experiences of God and the Christ.

The growth of missionary consciousness in the areas formerly termed "mission lands" has necessitated a revision in the very concept of mission. Mission used to be a one­way street - from the older centres of Christianity in Europe to the areas of more recent evangelization in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Latin America. In recent times the recognition has been growing that mission is in six continents. Although the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council declared that the Church was by its nature missionary (cf. Ad Gentes, n. 2), there has not been significant reflection on the implications of this doctrine for the process of mission and the relationships among the churches. For one thing, it means that in the new context of mission, all have bread to give and to receive. The meaning of this metaphor will become clearer as the paper progresses. Mission becomes a "mutual exchange of energies" (Ad Gentes, n. l9) among churches and groups. Second, this transmission of the Gospel in religious and cultural embodiments other than Western is making more urgent the demand that the Church become truly catholic and unidentified with any particular culture. It is also raising the question of the unity of faith in a plurality of expressions and what this means for the Church. Finally, the heart of mission is being shown to be a humble and transforming dialogue of experiences of God and the Christ.

Missionary Consciousness in the "Third Church"

The term "Third Church" is used in the sense employed by Walbert Bühlmann (1974) in his book The Coming of the Third Church: An Analisys of the Present and Future of the Church. Maryknool, NY: Orbis Books. It is a sociological term that designates the members of the younger Churches who now seem to have an edge in vocations and increasingly in mission. It is not a geographical concept and does not correspond with "Third World". For example, Hispanics and Blacks in this country belong to the Third Church, even though they are in no sense Third World.

In Princeps Pastorum, Pope John XXIII articulated the new mission when he wrote:

Once upon a time it seemed as though the life of the church used to prosper and blossom chiefly in the regions of ancient Europe, whence it would flow like a majestic river through the remaining areas which, to use the Greek term, were considered almost the periphery of the world; today, however, the life of the church is shared as though by a mutual irradiation of energies among all individual members of the mystical body of Christ. Not a few countries on other continents . . . are now . . . liberally offering to other church communities those very gifts, spiritual and material which they formerly used to receive (John XXIII, 1959:838).

That was in 1959. Then came the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council which declared the Church missionary by its very nature (cf. Ad Gentes, n. 2). Its teaching that the particular Church is "fashioned after the model of the universal Church" (Lumen Gentium, n. 23) implied that every particular Church is both a receiving and a sending Church.

Latin American Bishops, meeting at Puebla, Mexico, took up the matter. Convinced that "the more alive a local Church is, the more it will render the universal Church visibly present and the stronger will be its missionary approach to other peoples" (Eagleson and Scharper 1984: n. 363), they declared:

The time has come for Latin America to intensify works of mutual service between local Churches and to extend them beyond their own frontiers ad gentes. True, we ourselves are in need of missionaries, but we must give from our own poverty. By the same token, our Churches have something original and important to offer all: their sense of salvation and liberation, the richness of their people's religiosity, the experiences of the CEB's [basic Christian communities], their flourishing diversity of ministries, and the hope and joy rooted in faith (Eagleson and Scharper 1984:175, n. 368).

A mission congress in Lima, Peru, 4­6 February 1981, reflected on Puebla and carried further the implications of a Latin American mission. It would be a mission from poor countries using poor means and would not be tied to colonialism and imperialism. There would be no display of power, superiority complex, or cultural domination. The missionaries would rely only on their Latin American experience of the faith and would bring with them their option for the poor, dedication to justice, liberation and fellowship; respect for a people's culture; and their model of a popular church with its popular religiosity, in which culture and religion are closely interwoven (Degrijse, Omer, Going Forth: Missionary Consciusness in the Third World Catholic Churches. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1984:69). Areas of possible Latin American mission were designated as Asia, Africa, and the Spanish­speaking parts of the United States. This has become fact. Brazil alone has sent over 600 missionaries.

As for Asia, the International Congress on Mission held in Manila, the Philippines, 2­7 December 1979, announced a new age of mission which moves beyond the vocabulary and the idea of "sending churches" and "receiving churches":

mission is no longer and can no longer be a one­way movement from the "older churches" to the "younger churches". . . . Every local church is "sent" by Christ and the Father to bring the Gospel to its surrounding milieu and to bear it also to all the world ... . Every local church, according to its possibilities, must share whatever its gifts are, for the needs of other churches, for mission throughout mankind, for the life of the world (Degrijse 1984:41).

There are in the United States at least 400 Vietnamese priests, 500 Filipino priests, and 200 Korean priests (Okure, Aniedi, Letter of January 30 in response to author's query. Fr Okure is Co-ordinator, Ethnic Ministries, Migration and Refugee Services of the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1996). The total Asian immigration for the decade 1981­1990 totalled 2,817,426. The immigrants are concentrated in the Far West. In Africa in 1953, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost blazed a trail when it opened a house of formation for Africans at Ihiala (Nigeria); it was the first international missionary institute to do so. The Nigerian province now has missionaries in several countries of Africa and beyond, including 16 priests on mission in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Several international institutes have thriving African provinces whose members are on mission in Europe and America, for example, Divine Word Missionaries, Salesians, the Jesuits, and Dominicans, etc. Africa is witnessing the blossoming of religious institutes that take origin there. In 1968, Fr Marengoni and other Comboni missionaries founded the Apostles of Jesus, whose members are currently on mission in several African countries. In 1976, the Nigerian Bishops founded the Missionary Society of St Paul. Its members now work in several African countries; eight of them are on mission in the Black Apostolate in the United States in partnership with the Josephite Fathers. African institutes for brothers count at least seven: Bayozefiti of Rwanda (Sons of St Joseph); the Josephite Brothers of Zaire (now Congo); the Brothers of St Stephen (Nigeria); the Sons of Mary, Mother of Mercy (Nigeria); the Bannakaroli Brothers of Uganda; the Bene­Paulo of Burundi; and the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Tanzania).

Many African Dioceses have begun sending Fidei Donum priests to Europe and America, as well as to other African Dioceses. African institutes founded for women are more numerous. The International Union of Superiors General (Women) gave their number in 1994 as 127. Nigeria alone counts over ten institutes for women that started in that country, several of which have missionaries in many countries of Africa. Five of these institutes have missions in Europe and the United States. Pope Paul VI acknowledged and confirmed this missionary consciousness when on his first visit to Africa he said at Kampala: "By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves. The Church of Christ is well and truly planted in this blessed soil" (Paul VI, 1969:575). The African Bishops on the Council of the Synod for Africa declared as follows in the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod: "The church in Africa cannot limit herself to the horizons of the continent; she has values which she can offer to the entire church" (Synod of Bishops for Africa 1993: n. 16). Some of these values are outlined in the Post­Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa:

Africans have a profound religious sense, a sense of the sacred, of the existence of God the Creator and of a spiritual world. The reality of sin, in its individual and social forms is very much present in the consciousness of these peoples, as is also the need for rites of purification and expiation (1995: n. 42).

Hence, as His Holiness notes with satisfaction in the same Exhortation (n. 56), "the church in Africa, having become 'a homeland for Christ' is now responsible for the evangelization of the continent and the world", "a church of mission which itself becomes missionary" (n. 8).

The Coming of the "Third Church"

The new shift in mission is fast changing the face of the church and of many institutes. A North American province of an international missionary institute received five candidates early this year. They were all Vietnamese. Candidates of international institutes are increasingly coming from the Third Church and are being missioned in Europe and North America. Bühlmann was convinced that the East, being the cradle of Christianity, had dominated the first millennium; the West, as the "Second Church", had dominated the second millennium. Therefore, the churches of the South, who until recently have been the receivers of a one­way mission, would give the third millennium its drive and most important inspirations. This phenomenon he called The Coming of the Third Church (1974). At least two factors have facilitated Third Church mission. The first was a shift in paradigms of mission. At the Vatican Council, two schools of mission confronted each other - mission as personal in character and directed toward the salvation of peoples who do not yet believe in Christ, and mission as ecclesiocentric in character and directed toward implanting the church (Brechter, Heinrich Suso, Ad Gentes. In Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II. Vol. 4. H. Vorgrimler, ed. Pp. 87-181. London, UK: Burns and Oates. 1969:118). Ad Gentes combined both views in n. 6. However, it bypassed them in n. 9 when it described missionary activity in eschatological terms as follows: "missionary activity is nothing else and nothing less than a manifestation or epiphany of God's will, and the fulfilment of that will in the world and in world history . . . [it] tends toward the fulfilment which will come at the end of time" (nn. 6, 9). God's goal is that "the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ" (Tutu, Desmund, "Mission in the 1990's" International Bulletin of Missionary Research 14(1):6-7. 1990:6). With the shift in focus from salvation of individuals and planting of the church to the establishment of the kingdom, a two­way mission in six continents becomes indicated. No culture and no people will have attained the kingdom until the Lord comes. Besides, all are equidistant from the center; all will continue to grapple with dialogue among faith, human values, and human systems.

The second factor was a re­imaging of the church. If in 1959 there was still a centrer and a periphery in the church, the church of the Second Vatican Council is constituted "in and from particular churches" (Lumen Gentium, n. 23) such that:
Each individual part of the church contributes through its special gifts to the good of the other parts and of the whole church ... . Between all the parts there remains a bond of close communion with respect to spiritual riches, apostolic workers and temporal resources, following the injunction of the Apostle: "according to the gift that each has received, administer it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" ( 1 Pt 4:10) (Lumen Gentium, n.13).

At the 1974 General Synod, the Latin American Church enriched the entire Church with its experience of a preferential option for the poor and basic Christian communities. Its Liberation Theology received many echoes throughout the Christian world, to the extent that between 1984 and 1986 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued two instructions on it, the first negative, the second accepting and integrating many of its features (Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation", 6 August 1984; Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, 14 April 1986). Asia is currently influencing spirituality with its ashrams, enneagrams, and its methods of meditation and mind control. Increasingly, the Third Church is featured at various levels of decision­making in the Church, including the Roman Offices, where they bring their personal and cultural contributions. We are witnessing an exchange of theologies (Bühlmann, The Church of the future. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1986:181) to the extent that a complete theological education today necessarily includes some knowledge of the theologies and praxis of the Churches of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. With this goes an exchange of professors and, one hopes, of students, not only the hitherto one­way traffic of students to Europe and America, but also from these to institutes in the Third Church, especially for those intending to minister there. Returning missionaries are truly very effective cross­cultural agents: they carry values in both directions, between their areas of mission and their home churches.

Bread to Give and to Receive

In 1943 Henri Godin shocked the European world with his book France, Pays de Mission?, Paris, France: Les Editions Ouvrieres. (Trans and adapt. Into English as France, A Missionary Land? Part 2 of France Pagan? The Mission of Abbé Godin by Maisie Ward. Pp. 65-191. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1949) calling attention to the need for a re­evangelization of large sectors of French society which had fallen away from faith and practice (Godin 1943). In 1963 the World Council of Churches meeting in Mexico City proclaimed "mission in six continents". On 9 March 1983, meeting with the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Pope John Paul II proclaimed a "new evangelization", an evangelization new in ardour, expression, and methods. It may be argued that the United States is not in need of re­evangelization. Weekly churchgoing, for example, is 12 per cent in France, 36 per cent in Italy, but 44 per cent in the United States (Gallen, Joseph, "Canon Law for Religious after the New Code". Review for Religious 47(1):111-137, 1988:112), to use one of the ciphers of religious commitment. But every church stands in continual need of conversion until faith completely transforms culture. Besides, no place has been spared the erosions caused by "modernity": violent and organized crime, the plague of drugs and other escape mechanisms, the mass disaffection of youth, unjust systems that hold many impoverished, and the stranglehold of corporations that operate solely for profit and ignore the well­being of society. Like every other church, the American Church must continue to seek a deeper transformation of society and culture by the Gospel. In this it stands to gain from the cooperation and the solidarity of the other churches.

The American Church too has bread to offer, and doubtless her missionaries are carrying this bread into many places. At the Vatican Council, she bequeathed religious freedom to the world church. Her struggle for inclusive language goes beyond questions of language to a vision of male­female relationships of equality and respect based on the Gospel. Correspondingly, she has championed "a church of equal discipleship" with shared responsibility for ministry and has perhaps the most extensive programmes of training for lay leaders. Consonant with the culture of religious individualism, American Catholics have strong personal relationships with Christ (Leege, David C., and Gremillon, Joseph, The People, Their Pastors and the Church: Viewpoints of Church Policies and Positions. Study of Catholic Parish Life, Report no. 7, March 1986. Istitute for Pastoral and Social Ministry and The Center for the Study of Contemporary Society. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1986:4). They embrace the faith with personal commitment and passion, as seen for example in the abortion debate. They have been at the forefront in applying social research methods to pastoral issues as well as in integrating counselling services as part of parish pastoral services. In the communion that is the Church, all have bread to give and to share. The mistake in the past was that many missionaries who went to the Third Church did not seem to believe that those to whom they went had some bread themselves which they were willing to share with the "strangers" (Gittins, 1993:56). The new mistake would be that an established community would feel it has all the bread it needs and nothing to receive. However, as the Mission Congress in Manila, the Philippines, 2­7 December 1979, stated: "every local church, because it is not ever on earth a total realization of the church, must also be a receiving church" (Degrijse 1984:41).

Considering the diversity of peoples in the United States, it may even be that in the providence of God this diversity is a kind of trial run for the coming reconciliation and interdependence of all peoples. In an epilogue to Bühlmann's The Church of the Future (1986:185­197), Karl Rahner pointed to the "newly developed unity in human inter­relatedness worldwide" such that "the life and fate of every region of the earth is tangibly affected by everything that is happening everywhere in the world" (cited in Bühlmann 1986: 188­189). By reason of mutually conditioning relationships, "this humankind is reflectively planning its future, compelled to do so" (cited in Bühlmann 1986:189). Rahner considered that the emerging world strategy of the future called for a corresponding globalization of theology and evangelization (Bühlmann 1986:193). The parish of the Most Precious Blood in Queens, New York, celebrates 11 Sunday masses in six languages; in the archdiocese itself, masses are held in 20 languages, in Los Angeles in 45 languages. Jay P. Dolan of Notre Dame comments: "There are really two Catholic churches, one suburban, White, and middle class; the other urban, ethnically diverse, and economically precarious. Those two churches rarely talk to each other or even know that each other exists" (Dolan, Jay P., Article in Daily Southtown. Chicago, October 1:D-18). The early Catholic immigrants brought along their clergy and settled into "language parishes" or "national parishes". These became transitional staging points into mainstream America. By the 1940's, Catholics had become absorbed into the mainstream, sharing the American dream and ethos and moving into suburbia. The dominant value systems of the American Catholic Church became those of the White middle class.

In the decade 1980­1990, Hispanic immigration grew by 7.7 million to a total number of 22,354,059, according to 1991 Census Bureau data, (cited in National Conference of Catholic Bishops 1992:8). The projection for the end of the century is 25 million Hispanics. Since 80 per cent of Hispanics identify themselves as Catholic (Leege and Gremillon, Post-Vatican II Parish Life in the United States: Review and Preview. Study of Catholic Parish Life, Report no. 15, June 1989. Istitute for Pastoral and Social Ministry and The Center for the Study of Contemporary Society. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1989:4), there are probably close to 20 million Hispanic Catholics. They concentrate in five areas: over 800,000 in Chicago; 1,500,000 in New York; 900,000 in Miami and environs; 3 million in Texas and 5 million in California; and about 2.5 million in Los Angeles and environs. Hispanics will soon be the majority in many of these areas. With some 2,000 Hispanic deacons (Leege and Gremillon 1989:4) and an army of trained lay leaders, thousands of Spanish­speaking missionaries from the Third Church have been co-operating in the Hispanic ministry. The United States Bishops see the Hispanic presence as an opportunity to draw on varied religious and cultural traditions for the development of the community, to put different worldviews, philosophies of life, and expressions of faith at the service of the transformation of church and society (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Many Pilgrims, One Family of God: A Parish Multi-Cultural Resource Manual. Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1992:4,12). Hispanics can witness to the "experience of how faith in Christ generates a culture that protects, sustains, and promotes human dignity" and "how the preferential option for the poor, an essential aspect of the Catholic faith, becomes a cultural reality" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "The Hispanic Presence in the New Evangelization" Origins 25 (26):433-440, 1995:435­436). Their presence becomes a further spur to the United States Church to strive more strenuously for freedom, personal growth, care for the weak and needy, and liberation from alienating economic, political, and religious structures of individual and social life. These are values already enshrined in the American ideal, but the new presence makes these values more urgent. The result will be a new American whose passion for individual freedom is tempered by the Hispanic concern for the relationships of personalismo.

There are some 30,000,000 Blacks in this country, just about 12 per cent of the population. In the decade 1981­1990, there were close to 900,000 immigrants from the Caribbean alone. Black Catholics are possibly now 3 million, that is, one in every 10 Blacks is Catholic. Only 4 per cent of Catholic sisters are African­American or Hispanic (Nygren, David and Ukeritis, Miriam "The Future of Religious Orders in the United States". Origins, 1992:272) although African­Americans and Hispanics are approaching 40 per cent of the Catholic population; an estimate in the last decade put the number of African-American sisters at 700, and African­American priests at 300 (verbal estimate of Dr Jamie Phelps, OP, Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois). In 1968, African-American priests and religious held a caucus to figure out their responsibilities in the context. Ten years later, in October 1978, they held the first Black Catholic Theological Symposium. A Black Catholic theology that reflects on the American Black experience in terms of the Gospel is emerging. Meantime, missionaries from other parts of the church, including Africa, are helping in the Black apostolate. About 110 African sisters are in full­time ministry in the United States. Their apostolates range from teaching in parochial schools and providing hospital ministry to the care of the handicapped and the aged. African priests in full­time ministry in the United States are about 120; another 200 serve part­time while completing graduate degrees. The Black experience reminds the entire church that the Gospel we preach is a gospel of freedom. Christ has made us free and sent us to proclaim and to effect liberation from all that oppresses humankind. The same Christ calls each one by name. He strengthens and nurtures one's self­identity while drawing one from inside to become a better self. As such, he affirms Black self­identity as he does the identity of all peoples. "Black spirituality teaches what it means to 'let go' and 'to lean on God'" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, What We Have Seen and Heard: A Pastoral Letter on Evanglization. Black Bishops of the United States, 1984:8). "We've come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in his holy word", the Lord who confers dignity (Cone, James, God of the oppressed. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1975:2). Black spirituality also shows how true joy comes from the Spirit of God who comforts us in all afflictions (Cone, 1975:9).

The first phase of inculturation would be completed when these various spiritualities have been shared; the final phase would be when their combined efforts have totally transformed all human relationships and institutions. By then the coming of the Lord would not be far away. Religious and missionary institutes are in many ways a microcosm of the church as a whole; their experience of intercultural living reproduces and reinforces the problems and opportunities of the whole church (Shorter, Aylward, Toward a Theology of Inculturation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994:69). On the question of formation, for example, divergent perspectives and attitudes can enrich the entire institute. In the case of Vietnamese candidates, the West focuses on the person as an individual and stresses personal commitment, internalisation of virtues, and the processes of formation. Asian cultures generally perceive the individual as taking identity from relationships within the group; loyalty to the ethos of the group looms large as a factor in one's decisions. Asians have also an ancient and tested mystical tradition which needs to be given the right context to blossom, while the West has a predominantly scientific and theoretical approach. A mutual exchange of energies will produce persons in whom conceptual thought and processes of intuition are smoothly integrated, in whom the yin (passive element) and yang (active element) have merged. Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans must be enabled to bring their identities with them if they are to make their specific contributions in the intercultural setting. International institutes thus appear as a paradigm for the "exchange of energies" among the particular churches:
In bringing together members from different countries, cultures and continents, international institutes enrich themselves. Members from North and South, East and West share their understanding and experience of the faith, their spirituality, their views on missionary methods, as well as their mentality, their traits, their work methods. In this way they can enrich one another and help one another with their short-comings (Degrijse 1984:82).

What Can Africans Contribute?

Since culture is founded on human nature, it is likely that cultures share the same basic elements, but what is primary in one culture may be secondary or tertiary in another. It is a question of focus. The experience of Africans may help others to change focus on certain issues of life. The heat wave of summer 1995 took a toll of 600 lives in Chicago. Most victims were poor and aged folk living on their own. The city mourned the dead and funerals were arranged. In the end, 47 bodies were unclaimed, people who belonged to no one. Compare that with the funeral of a mad person who died in a completely foreign village somewhere in Africa. The entire village arranged the funeral and turned out for it. African solidarity, love for community, and respect for the aged as the most honoured members of the family could be significant contributions. Family values can blossom only if people are willing to reorient their lives toward greater solidarity. Africa loves life and prizes the gift of life as the greatest possession. Mmadu ka uba (possessions cannot be compared with people, life first) they say. The quality of life does not consist in having, but in harmony and concord among people and between them and the spirit world. The African puts a premium on spending time with others. Creating time for others involves a reordering of priorities, a focus on persons and not on things. The West seems to be in need of regaining the personal touch.

The modern person is in search of a soul. The enthronement of the goddess reason led to an over­concentration on the left hemisphere of the brain that controls reasoning and verbal skills. Descartes' cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) defines the Western spirit. There is a split in the consciousness, such that one is no longer in touch with one's psychic being and the unconscious. The proliferation of techniques of health and wholeness and the quest of the feminine element illustrate the extent to which people are aware of the split. The West is becoming more aware of the distinction between technical medicine and personal medicine, between sickness and illness. Even in medicine, technology is only part of the story. The West is also rediscovering the importance of symbols as a bridge between psyche and intellect. Wholeness requires the mutual interpenetration of two areas of being (reason and psyche) and the conscious assimilation of unconscious contents (Jung, Carl Gustav, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1933: 16). The West seems to have lost the sense of the social and metaphysical consequences of one's action. The African, always conscious of the links between theground, creation, and the spirit world, knows that "an offense which disrupts the smooth running of one affects both the other phases of existence" (Babatunde, Emmanuel, "An African Concept of Penance". Shalom 3(3):131-137. (Onitsha, Nigeria) 1985: 135) and that the good one does have both personal and mystical dimensions. The African experience of the mutual exchange of energies in the communion of saints can be of benefit to others.

African spirituality is founded upon a lively sense of the presence of the spirit world and its interpenetration of the world of human beings. The African God is indeed the "one who sees me" (Gn 16:13), the God of the fathers "who walks with me" (cf. Gn 48:15). The very ground on which one walks is sacred and a guarantor of the mystical contract between human beings and the spirit world. The African can help bring back the sense of the sacred and of the presence of God in every domain of life. For the first time in ten years, I was home in Nigeria for Christmas. Mass over, the young sisters, novices, and postulants barely grabbed their breakfast before breaking out into a spontaneous dance group. For drums they used their palms and feet. They carried fresh leaf branches (symbols of victory, joy, or celebration) and paraded around the entire place, stopping to greet and to dance before each one they met. Surprised, I asked the parish priest what was going on. Laughing, he said, "But is today not Christmas Day? Have ten years of private religion wiped out the memory of joy as communal and religion as eminently social?" Finally, we come to the liturgy. It was a matter of wonder for many to see Cardinals and Bishops swaying to African rhythms at the opening liturgy of the Synod for Africa on 10 April 1994. It shows that all can appreciate liturgy as community and as celebration. Our African­American brothers and sisters have kept alive the tradition in this country; so have charismatic groups. Liturgy that is real community celebration strengthens the internal dynamic of liturgy itself whereby it is oriented toward transforming social relationships.

The "Third Church" and the Transformation of Mission

The Third Church is transforming the very idea of mission. For a long time, mission went hand in hand with Western civilization. H.H. Johnston could in 1889 recommend Christian missions to the British Crown in the following words: "They [missionaries] strengthen our hold over the country; they spread the use of the English language; they induct the natives into the best kind of civilization and, in fact, each mission station is an essay in colonization" (cited in Oliver, Roland, The Missionary Factor in East Africa, London, UK: Longmans, 1952:128). The belief that Western culture is or will become the world culture and that Western philosophy and ways of perceiving are the most appropriate forms in which to articulate the Gospel message can be said to be the most serious obstacle to inculturation in practice. It cannot be denied that there is a technological culture that is seeping into all nooks and corners of the globe and that engenders certain attitudes toward life. It is, nevertheless, also true that this does not always affect the deepest levels of culture. His Holiness John Paul II could therefore address the youth of Malawi as follows:
I put before you today a challenge - a challenge to reject a way of living which does not correspond to the best of your traditions and your Christian faith. Many people in Africa look beyond Africa for the so­called "freedom of the modern way of life". Today I urge you to look inside yourselves. Look to the riches of your own traditions, look to the faith which we are celebrating ... (Homily in the airport of Lilongwe, 6 May 1989:478, Africa Pontificia, vol. 2, Edizioni Dehoniane, Rome, 1993, pp. 477-479).

Third Church mission assumes great significance since it is the first time in centuries that the Gospel is being preached without its Western cultural embodiment (Degrijse, 1984:73). People do not have to become Western or adopt Western ways of perceiving and behaving before they can become Christians. The import of this fact is far­reaching and is in the process of being worked out. Writing at the end of the last decade, Lesslie Newbigin expressed the hope that our decade would "witness a fresh and resolute attempt to clarify the content of the Christian mission from a perspective that is not wholly controlled by the assumptions of Western thought" ("Mission in the 1990's. International Bulletin of Missionary Research 13(3):100-102, 1989:102). He hazarded a guess that the spread of the Gospel would be "in the unspectacular and unheralded growth of small congregations, especially in the non-Western world" (1989:102). This has become fact. Through the centuries the church has found Western philosophy a fairly good channel for translating the Christian message. What happens when it does the same through Indian philosophy? Should a missionary to India not first undergo this change of languages of the faith so as to present the faith within the Indian world of meanings? Inculturation is as much what happens to the message as to the recipients. It is also about "what happens to the messengers as they transmit and interpret, model and embody the good news of salvation" (Gittins, Anthony J. "Gifts and Strangers: Meeting the Challange of Inculturation. New York: Paulist Press, 1989:x). Taken seriously, this would demand a reprogramming of mission. It would probably demand that a prospective missionary to India receive his or her theological and pastoral training in India, or at least in some place well versed in Indian thought and theology. This requirement will become more evident as, hopefully, more and more Third Churches develop their own vernacular theological idiom, as is already the case in Madagascar. Mission would assume a more cross­cultural profile. Missionaries would not only be responding to an invitation in need, but would also be bearing a witness to, and challenge from, a different cultural appropriation of the faith (Amaladoss, Michael, "Mission in the 1990's". International Bulletin of Missionary Research 13(1): 1989:10).

The coming of the Third Church has made the concept of the cultural patrimony of the church problematic. The church, like any society, has its symbols and shared meanings and, to a certain extent, these together form a cultural patrimony. Nevertheless, the link between the forms and functions of certain Christian symbols has come up for reexamination. For example, are wheate bread and wine from the grape universal symbols of the Last Supper, or are they symbols of food and drink which can be replaced by equivalents in different cultures? One of the principles of inculturation is that it must not prejudice church communion and unity. How is this unity to be conceived? Does it demand uniformity in the forms and functions of Christian symbols? The crucifix, for example, is a universal Christian symbol. It symbolizes Christ and points to his redeeming work. It may designate a Christian and the Christian belief itself. However, the Latin cross, the Greek cross, and the Ethiopian cross are three different forms. The functions (or meanings) and their depictions have altered in times and places. In one tradition, the cross may be a cosmic sign of Christ's universal dominion; in another, it may depict the agony and pain of Christ as being redemptive, present him as the king and priest who reigns from a tree, or as in the case of the Ethiopian cross, the very tree of life. To what extent may particular churches represent underlying meanings of faith in their own forms without harming unity? What is legitimate diversity in the unity of faith? The coming of the Third Church is forcing such deeper reflections on the reducible and irreducible elements of the church's cultural patrimony. Because of the geopolitics in our world, the Third Church has been in a position to recover a necessary aspect of mission: her mission is carried out in humility, with no display of power or cultural domination. The missionary shares, but does not impose, his or her own worldview or religious values. The inner heart of mission is the spirit of dialogue, a dialogue of human experiences of God and the Christ. This dialogue begins in the heart of the missionary as he or she confronts the values of the other. In such a dialogue, both partners are enriched and transformed. This approach and spirituality of mission has been called mission­in­reverse which "teaches that the minister can and should learn from the people ministered to, including and perhaps especially, the poor and marginalized people . . . necessarily allowing them to be leaders in the relationship" (Barbour, Claude Marie, "Seeking Justice and Shalom in the City", International Review of Mission 73(291):303-309, 1984:304).


I have depicted the rise of missionary consciousness in the Third Church as seen in the increasing proportion of Third Church membership of international institutes and the greater numbers of missionaries. This movement spotlights mission as a certain mutual exchange of energies (Ad Gentes, n.19) between churches and groups who share material resources, personnel, and spiritual gifts. A double shift has been made in the meaning of mission. From being just a geographical movement of one "sent out", it becomes also an internal process within the missionary who moves from himself or herself to dialogue with what is other; from being enclosed within the boundaries of the Church, the meaning of mission reaches out to offer basic orientations for what is human and true. In both senses, the Third Church is making its due contribution, sharing theologies, praxis, and spiritualities and, thus, preparing the Church to become the world Church in which "particular traditions, together with the individual patrimony of each family of nations, can be illumined by the light of the Gospel and then be taken up into Catholic unity" (Ad Gentes, n. 22). If particular traditions are being taken up into Catholic unity, then the expression of the faith is being freed of undue identification with one particular tradition. This is the future task of the world church.

Ref. Missiology, An International Review, vol. XXV, n. 4. Oct. 1997