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Ad Gentes to Evangelii Gaudium: Mission’s Move to the Centre

5 January 2016 | General Interest

Article by Fr Noel Connolly, first published in The Australasian Catholic Record, Volume 92 Issue 4 (2015), pp.387-402

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium defines the church as a 'community of missionary disciples'. We have to be missionary to be called disciples.

He dreams of 'a missionary option' that will transform everything. For Francis, mission is clearly essential to the church. He is continuing a movement that began with Ad Gentes, the missionary document of Vatican II. The fathers at the council insisted, 'The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature. For it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she takes her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father'. This was reiterated by Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi: 'Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize'; and by John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio: 'the Church is missionary by her very nature'.

Although mission has officially been at the heart of the church, in practice it  has been regarded as an optional extra. It was something the church left to ‘overseas missionaries’ or something it does only when it has attended to its more traditional activities of celebrating the liturgy, running schools and hospitals, and teaching.

In this article I would like to trace the stress on mission through the major missionary church documents since Vatican II. In the process I hope to clarify the meaning of mission. Most important words come packed with history and ‘mission’ is one of those words. It provokes both admiration and criticism. It is used by many in the church in quite different senses.

Noel ConnollyAbout Rev Noel Connolly ssc
Rev Connolly is a Columban missionary priest and a member of the Columban Mission Institute. He has worked in Korea, was Rector of the Pacific Mission Institute, Vicar General of the Columbans throughout the world and Director of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand.

He is Head of and Lecturer in Mission and Culture at The Broken Bay Institute and also lectures in mission at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. Besides mission, his major interest is in our growing multicultural Australian Church. 


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