May I share some feelings and insights so that we may all continue rerooting mission? My words are not impartial nor impassionate. One of my steadfast convictions is that people who are looked upon as insignificant (and are considered "targets" of evangelisation) are in fact fabulous sources and communicators of the faith. Many ordinary persons are passionately involved in small and wonderful missionary tasks that contribute to the formation of a new humanity. My particular vision is due to a local church, and to sociocultural and spiritual conditions in the Andes, and also due to collaboration in theological networks within and outside Latin America.
In our South American continent and elsewhere, we are entering a historical period that demands new actions and meanings of liberation (Gutiérrez, Gustavo, "La teologia: Una funcion eclesial", Paginas 1994, 130:15). The voices of the poor, of Indigenes, of Blacks, of Mestizos, and of women are beginning to transform our churches and mission. I believe that these pluralculturalpolitical religious voices do enrich the Christian tradition.
In this article I will discuss the contributions of other religions to Christian praxis, a particular and universal understanding of Christian faith, new paths and insights in emerging Latin American theologies, and conclude with discussing the claims on missiology.
will underline a refoundation, a rerooting of mission. This
happens if missionary endeavours develop a dialogue with the "little
ones of the earth"; in this case mission builds on its roots and
discovers a new horizon. It may even be said that ordinary people offer
a reverse mission toward church workers and theologians.
Religions Revitalise Christianity
people who define themselves as Christians (and in a special way as
Catholics) are simultaneously bearers of aspects of other religions.
This is true among Mestizos, Indigenes, and AfroAmerican peoples,
Amazonic groups, and urban majorities (with their syncretic and new
religious phenomena). (cf. Moreira, A., and R. Zicman, Misticismo
e novas religioes, Petropolis, Brazil: Vozes., 1994; essays
by Hoornaert, E., P. Sanchis, and R Siepierski, Historia da Igreja
na America Latina e no Caribe, Petropolis, Brazil: CEHILA/VOZES,
1995; and Parker, C. Otra logica en America Latina: Religion
popular y modernizacion capitalista, Mexico City: Fonde de Culture
Economica, 1993). A careful appraisal of our Christian situations shows
that each person and group has some type of affiliation with another
symbolicreligious system. The degree of participation in another
religion depends on a variety of human and spiritual factors. On the
other hand, these phenomena awaken much controversy (for example, syncretism
in Latin America, new religious structures). Here I will take note only
of contributions to the Christian tradition.
us consider one case: a ritual within a meeting of openhearted
Andean Christians (ethnically Quechua, Aymara, and Mestizo). I briefly
describe a sixhour ritual, during the fifth annual workshop on
Andean Theology: "Indigenous Community and Modern Changes"
(1994). The participants were Peruvian and Bolivian active members and
leaders of the Catholic Church, meeting in Ayaviri, Peru, as follows:
is dark and very cold, as some 40 people walk up the slope of a holy
mountain. We are participants in a theological workshop, together with
members of lay societies devoted to the Virgin Mary and to the cross.
We assemble on the top of the mountain. We tower above the city lights.
Everyone shivers due to the cold wind; we are at an altitude of over
13,000 feet. Previously, in the meeting place we began the sixhour
ceremony with the preparation of the offerings: one of incense for God;
one offering of coca leaves, sweets, and flowers for Pachamama (Mother
Earth); another offering for the ancestor spirit residing in this mountain;
and one for the other sacred mountains. Each one prayerfully places
the offerings of three coca leaves (with our personal and communal prayers
of petition for family needs, economic well-being, health, etc.). Inside
the chapel on the mountain top, led by a Roman Catholic priest indigenous
to this area, we pray as we raise a plate of burning incense and light
candles to the holy images, especially to Our Lady. There are some spontaneous
prayers by members of the group. We enjoy meaningful silence and deep
emotions. We then go out into the dark where some have prepared a fire
with pieces of wood and dried animal dung. Now we are led by an indigenous
religious leader (pako in the Quechua language) and two assistants.
We pass from hand to hand the sacred cloths, containing the four offerings,
and with fervour kiss each sacrificial bundle. We all address, in silence,
the mystery that surrounds and penetrates our hearts. It is midnight
and freezing cold. The pako places the four offerings in the
fire, as sacrificial gifts from all of us. They are consumed by the
sacred entities; it is a ritual banquet. We later go down the mountain,
with our hearts full of faith, trust in life, and thanksgiving to God
and to Mother Earth. We return to the meeting place where once again
women share coca leaves with all those present (placing the leaves in
one's mouth). We also share alcoholic drinks, most welcomed in that
cold and joyous night; these drinks have a meaning of renewing bonds
with all living beings.
these symbols nourish our faith and our theology. However, one has to
acknowledge the abyss separating Christian institutions (present here
for more than 400 years) and indigenous structures. If there is some
dialogue and interaction, it happens because of people's experience;
their Christian praxis is polyreligious.
I summarise some key contributions of people's indigenous religion to
Latin American Christianity? Ritual activity carried out by Christians
includes love of creation (called Mother Earth, soul of plants and trees,
spirit of water, etc.). An ecological spirituality corrects an anthropocentric
type of Christianity. Community (not the modern Iism) is the basis
of expressions of faith. Divine reality includes the feminine and the
masculine, their reciprocity and their differences. Offerings to God,
ancestors, and many sacred entities are due to reciprocity and a permanent
experience of the mystery of life. Material and spiritual wellbeing
are everybody's responsibility and there are abundant moments of peace
sharing and of building relationships. Personal aspirations and needs
of a poor population become a common human project and a celebration
(what we often call liberation).
general terms, several religious traditions are present in Latin American
Christianity (its rituals, ethical perspectives, religious organisation,
leadership, and indigenous wisdom). Because of them, the Christian faith
becomes inculturated and present in these religions (we may say that
faith becomes interreligionised). Let us not forget that many
of these elements have been part of our AndeanBlackAmerican
heritage, but were suppressed or marginalised by colonial or by neocolonial
structures. However, those elements are positive contributions to Christianity
and allow its re-rooting. Moreover, it can be said that those nonChristian
elements are ways in which the God of life is present among us (Cf.
Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, [The Church: 21 November, 1964], nn.
16, 17; Gaudium et Spes, [The Church in the Modern World: 7 December,
1965], n. 22; Nostra Aetate, [The Relationship of the Church
to NonChristian Religions, 28 October, 1965], nn. 1, 2, 4, 5;
Pontifical Council for InterReligious Dialogue and the Congregation
for the Evangelisation of Peoples, 1991, nn. 19, 29); there is one history
and mystery of salvation in all humanity, n. 35: the kingdom is present
in members of other religious traditions). This implies that our church
life and our missiology interact with other religions. Otherwise, our
Christian community does not grow holistically, and does not enjoy all
the manifestations of life's mystery.
ParticularUniversal Understanding of the Faith
The contemporary search for and the invention of paradigms taking place within the scientific community in fact express desires and praxis of common people. Everybody today is concerned about a healthy and meaningful existence. This concern, this passion, is growing day by day because we are not satisfied with the world as a total market full of individual absolutes (of Iisms). We seek life in the midst of societies where twothirds of the scientists are involved in warrelated enterprises and in marginal areas where most persons are sick, hungry, impoverished, and unorganised. So we all long for new realities, and for paradigms that show us the way toward the new. According to Leonardo Boff, the new paradigm is to see Earth as an unlimited community in which we are members, and here "the particular good arises from being in communion with the universal common good on our planet" (Boff, Leonardo, PrincipioTerra, São Paulo, Brazil: Atica, 1995: pp. 36, 79).
will now outline theological aspects of an Andean paradigm. It is a
paradigm for daily existence and also for missiology. This is the product
of a series of meetings in Bolivia and Peru from 1990 onward. [For a
detailed presentation of this Andean paradigm, see Irarrazaval (1995
"Un pensar creyente: Minusculo y universal", Boletin del
Instituto de Estudios Aymaras 49/50/51: pp. 6194)]. With our
modern sensibility we construct paradigms that cover the whole world.
In the case of these Andean theological workshops, persons formulate
"small" or particular paradigms with universal relevance.
With this vision, missiology can be refounded. Christian mission
is given a new orientation. My outline has four aspects: ritual basis
for thought; culture and liberation in a holistic perspective; modern
responsibility; and names of the Deity.
rituals are the indispensable roots for the understanding of the faith
and for its communication. So mission does not take rituals from one
society to another context. Regarding Andean theology, it is nurtured
by its own rituals and symbols; it is not limited to univocal concepts.
As was stated in our workshops, "celebration is the model of human
action"; "ritual, that is to say, life, is the place to do
theology" (Irarrazaval, ibid., 1995, p. 70). This guarantees a
missio-logy that is inseparable from spirituality and from community.
is a holistic journey. All beings have links among themselves; culture
is lived in the midst of history, reason and ethics interact with each
other, etc. Andeans do not have dualisms (like Westerners), where one
reality eliminates the other. They rather acknowledge difference, complementarily,
and interaction. As has been said, "each culture is particular,
but it has a universal vocation, and it builds relationships of equal
rights with other cultures"; "culture and history blend well";
"theology is done within people's history ... discovering the message
of Jesus for Andean culture" [Irarrazaval: "How Is Theology
Done in Latin America?" Voices from the Third World 18 (1):59-78.
EATWOT (Bangalore, India, 1995, pp. 7778)]. Thus, there is
no room for unilateral models, nor for dualistic thinking. Missiology
is a holistic endeavour.
is assumed with critical eyes so that it benefits all. The Andean population
fears that modernity may not leave room for their way of living. On
the other hand, Andeans see it as a universal human project that is
locally reinterpreted and transformed for the sake of everyone's wellbeing.
According to the participants in our workshops: "modernity is like
sowing; we choose the seeds, and seeds later give fruits", "from
the standpoint of our culture we build a just world, since this is desired
by all the poor" (Irarrazaval, ibid., 1995, pp. 79, 81). Thus,
modernity is seen as a task in people's hands, without discrimination.
There is no fatalism in the sense of a world market and social means
of communication that set up absolutes for everybody. Andeans have their
own paths and values which allow missiology to be original.
Finally, evangelisation and theology listen to a polyphony of names of God. It has been said: "we are the earth; sons and daughters of the earth"; "God is father and mother", "we live because we walk in the presence of the Creator, of good spirits, of Mother Earth", "communion with God in life and celebration, and not in one's mind"; "with Indigenous eyes and hearts we welcome Christ"; "the Son of God walks in the history of Andean peoples"; "the Holy Spirit is here ... and moves us to love without placing barriers" (Irarrazaval, ibid., 1995, pp. 8283). It seems to me that these are expressions of a universal theology in inculturated images. No person or thing is excluded. All is taken into account, in its being real. Life's mystery is given different names and has concrete meanings. Therefore, missiology is polyphonic when it is faithful to mystery.
we have a particularuniversal paradigm. It does not conceptualise
the faith with the arrogance of modern rationality. Rather, it approaches,
loves, and understands God particularuniversal with the eyes and
hearts of the "little ones" in an Andean context. This implies
that missiology is done prayerfully, in the midst of rituals, with the
praxis and wisdom of common people, and also takes into account the
modern critique. This paradigm also affirms reciprocity and differences
between men and women in the human community and in its representations
of the divine presence. Regarding liberation, it is understood as a
daily task and as grace, as a way of being human in an Earth open to
mystery. Through all these "small" or particular insights
and symbols, Andean people have a universal significance; they place
themselves in contact - and invite others to be in contact - with the
ultimate foundations of the human condition, where the Spirit creates
Paths and Insights
common church procedure is to start from a message that is given to
persons; likewise, theological inquiry explains a sacred source to a
community. In both instances, specialists occupy all the space; People
of God are considered objects of the proclamation and the teaching of
the faith: there is no dialogue between the faithful and their ministers.
We here have a unilateral hermeneutic; and mission also becomes unilateral.
things have begun to change. In the past 30 years, small and alternative
paths have been opened. The preferential option for the poor touches
everything and everyone. The People of God are considered responsible
for (and not targets of) mission and its theology.
the Latin American context we now have our own theological tradition,
methodology, spirituality, and ethics. We have new processes and new
subjects celebrating the faith and doing theology. They open good roads.
God is understood as being present and transforming our history and
our identities. Unfortunately, what is being done is often misinterpreted
as if it were only social change, or as being one more example of contextual
thinking. What we have in our continent and elsewhere are new theological
constructs, [cf. Irarrazaval, ibid., 1995 and other essays about world
religions in that issue], which give a radical reorientation to missiology.
Mission may now be rooted in the "other" (and not seen as
a salvation of others); it is work done within the faith and thinking
of the common people.
are numerous paths that have a common thrust. All of these theologies
are done out of love. Jon Sobrino calls it an "intellectus amoris"
(Sobrino, J. El principio misericordia. Santander: Sal Terrae,
1992:71); it is from the standpoint of the heart, of communion, and
of struggling together that we understand faith and we celebrate life's
In Indigenous theology, ritual (as mentioned above) is what gives birth to understanding. It is holistic and concrete because it has the symbols, narratives, and wisdom of communities. The Christian heritage is assumed and reconstructed. God's presence is felt in Mother Earth, in relationships with ancestors, and in all lifegiving forces.
theology arises from the history and wisdom of AfroLatin Americans.
Its thinking is communitarian, underlining religious traditions together
with struggles for justice and against all forms of dehumanisation and
discrimination. God is one who strengthens Black women and men who encounter
Christ in their own passion and resurrection.
Mestizo theology, the history of salvation is understood in a special
way through life stories. It considers symbols and daily spirituality
of the people, underlining Marian devotions and also the reading of
the Word by communities of faith. It affirms - in a similar way to Indigenous
and Black thinking - a particular identity and community seeking universal
done by women is also developing a gender perspective. It deepens a
critique of patriarchal structures in society and church. Women's theology
is relational: sharing life, being open to divine mystery, and inventing
concrete, historical alternatives. The gender perspective allows women
and men to reconstruct differences and corelationships, to envision
God and Jesus with the wisdom of each and of both genders, and to celebrate
the Spirit's renewing the cosmos and all living beings.
emerging Latin American essays strengthen and expand the original insights
of God's loved ones, the "little ones", who are subjects of
theology, as members of communities of faith. May I insist on this:
today there is a spectrum of persons participating in the theological
ministry: Indigenous and Black people, women, youth, Mestizos, AsianAmericans,
etc., who are developing particularuniversal paradigms. The Church
in Latin America, formed mostly by poor and wise people, has abundant
theological charisma and ministries.
of us become responsible for the Earth and the wellbeing of humanity.
Mission is therefore part of the cosmic and human journey, where the
God of all peoples calls us to be church, sacrament of salvation. Regarding
mission theology, it is not the private property of a few; it is rather
being expressed in a polyphonic way by the whole People of God.
last section summarises what has been said in terms of the mission entrusted
to us by God for the sake of freedom and joy for all human beings. Since
other religions enrich the Christian life, then our mission may be interreligious.
A particularuniversal paradigm calls for missionary inculturation
of Christ and the Spirit. The emerging understandings of the faith arise
from the proclamation of God's salvation according to many names. I
will underline these three major claims.
I here include a word of caution? Missiology deals with perspectives,
debates, and a Christian discernment of what we do. In regards to policy
and strategy, mission is in the hands of the church community and its
hierarchy. So a theologian may offer insight, ministry, and systematisation;
one does not set out guidelines.
The conclusions are both bold and realistic. I insist that there is a new paradigm; common people are potential and real communicators and thinkers; they cannot be treated as objects of evangelisation and theology. But in the midst of every people there is evil, lack of obedience to the Message and to the Spirit, human and spiritual mistakes, sin. So mission carried out by the people is not the last word. The first and last word belong to God; they belong to a divine Message placed in the heart of the Christian church.
Realism also implies facing gigantic obstacles to mission. Modernity is in part a secular phenomenon, but it is also mostly polytheistic. Its world market and its Iism function as secular absolutes. Today's progress includes symbols that are incompatible with the Beatitudes. Moreover, churches are very involved in religious "marketing". At times evangelisation fosters spiritual consumerism, instead of communion with the CreatorSpirit. Since we face these huge obstacles, it is necessary - as suggested by Jose Comblin - to "work like ants" in the midst of challenging contexts (Comblin, J. Cristaos rumo ao seculo XXI: Nova caminhada de libertacoo, São Paulo, Brazil: Paulinas, 1996: 373). Yes, we are called to behave like clever ants and to boldly reformulate mission. What realistic projects are ahead of us? Allow me to draw conclusions from the first three sections of my essay.
1. In Latin American and Caribbean contexts, as Christians we share elements with - and of - other religions. Mission can favour interaction among religions. In this interaction, Christian faith (with its religious mediations) is offered to all people, because we believe that in Christ humanity dies and rises. At the same time, other religions have specific input for everyone's experience of salvation. This implies that religions do not merely coexist, nor that we resign ourselves to religious pluralism. Speaking in positive terms, an interreligious dialogue can deepen communion within the mystery of life, due to the contribution of each humanreligious tradition. In terms of our Christian symbols and beliefs, we acknowledge elements of different religions present in our communities (in their particular identities and histories).
2. As missionaries we communicate the truth as we discover it present in people's understanding of the faith. Any communication has cultural, gender, economic, and other components. These components are not the unchangeable Gospel, but they can be signs pointing toward the truth. For example, in the Andean understanding of the Christian faith, there are numerous sacred entities. When one proclaims salvation in Christ, one can remember local beliefs in protectors within nature and in ancestors who take care of us. Personally, I can now relate more intimately with the cosmic Christ and with the communion of saints because of what Indigenous people are teaching me. On the other hand, Indigenous communities that receive the message about the body of Christ may discover christological meanings in their relationship to Mother Earth.
3. Evangelisation and mission are - and should be more - in the hearts, hands, and mouths of common people. Jesus handed over his mission to "insignificant" people; the Church must do likewise today. Each Christian community has its gifts from the Spirit, its theologies, and its talents for the task of evangelisation. In the Latin American pluralcultural and pluralreligious scenario, the missionary vocation belongs not to an élite nor to foreigners, but to Mestizos, Blacks, Indigenes, Whites, Asiatics, and in a special way to youth and to women (who are de facto doing the good work). They, with their community experience, religions, cultures, and theologies, are the main bearers of the Good News. But they are also handicapped. Often they assimilate and reproduce our colonial and neocolonial church structures. Another problem is the powerful influence of foreign personnel and methodologies. So it is always necessary to reformulate and reroot missionary endeavours. How is this reconstruction done according to the Spirit of Christ? The Spirit is the source of inculturation and liberation in our mission, renewing and transforming each Christian community, each culture and religion. Because we live in the Spirit, we say that Christ is the Saviour of humankind and the heart of heaven and earth.
These and other major claims on mission are - I believe - promptings of the Spirit like tongues of fire in today's Pentecost. The warmth and courage of the Spirit is received by the "little ones of the earth". In spite of - and as a protest against - marginalisation and violence, people continue celebrating life. They also demand from the Church and from missiology that the joy of faith be the foundation of all.
Ref.: Missiology: An International Review, Vol. XXV, No. 1, January 1997.