Moving towards a global mission: introductory remarks
by Carmelo Dotolo

The missionary movement today is experiencing a period of change. It is not just about changing models in the theory and practice of mission. It is the acknowledgement that a mission is an event that renews itself through dialogue with the world, culture and society. The need for sincere dialogue, in fact, is one of the most significant signs of the times, showing how the mission is called on to operate a constant process of discernment, so that it can meet the demands of the men and women of our times. This entails the strength to identify a new paradigm. It is no accident that missions today are becoming increasingly global. They must live within the confines of the different cultures, within geographical spaces that are becoming ever closer in the struggle for a worldwide ethics, in the meeting with other religions. The mission is the place where humanity invokes the right to life and to better quality in relationships.

This framework seems to require a redefinition of the objectives of missionary reflection and practice. It is no longer a case of thinking, reflecting and operating within the context of a Christian society; or of aspiring to a form of Christianization which, to many, appears like proselytism. Rather, the focus should be on promoting processes of liberation/salvation according to the criteria of the Kingdom proclaimed and practiced by Jesus and by the first Christian communities.

1. Missions and the signs of the times

To maintain that the theology of mission is engaged in rethinking its identity, with respect to both theoretical reflection and pastoral practice, is nothing new. It could not be otherwise, because it is a specific aspect of the Christian event to consider oneself constantly a part of the historical process, which means translating the innovations introduced by the Gospels into the lives of men and women who are searching for the meaning of life. The decisiveness of the logic of inculturation, therefore, is the characteristic trait of the mission of the Church, which looks on the rythmic flowing of time with the attention of one whose task it is to account for the revelation as the sign of a reality that directs the course of history differently.

Yet it is also known that the relationship between the Gospels and culture, the Church and the world, is not the result of a humanitarian marketing operation, nor a rebalancing act within a system of religious, political and cultural forces. Instead, it is the laborious development of a relationship between the project of the Kingdom and man’s desire to build a more dignified and better world in which to live. Therefore, no mission can be conceived without a suitable focus on the signs of the times, which are the issues that spring from the different visions of life, mankind and the world, which interrogate the most genuine intentionality of the mission.

This is the groundwork for understanding the creative tension that animates the self-understanding of missiology, regardless of whether a change of paradigm is taking place or the dynamics of evangelization are being overhauled. The history of the 20th century does not just bring to the fore the paradoxical appeal of the Christian project, but also a certain disenchantment for certain lifestyles, models of thought, ethical criteria, which, inspired by the innovation of the kerygma, collide against referential horizons demanding project-making autonomy and decision-making freedom. In this state of affairs, the indication of a crisis of the Christian message is not marginal, because it affects the capacity of Christianity to build its own future and, consequently, its missionary capability. As stated in Redemptoris Missio 36, «one of the most serious reasons for the lack of interest in the missionary task is a widespread indifferentism, which, sad to say, is found also among Christians. It is based on incorrect theological perspectives and is characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that “one religion is as good as another”». The question, therefore, concerns the problematic nature of certain ways of translating the meaning of the mission, its legitimacy, with respect to the assumption that every culture and religion contains a response for the concerns of mankind. The reason lies in the complexity of the new areopaguses. In particular, we are faced with a cultural plurality that highlights the importance of alterity and of difference. Without exceeding in final interpretations, it can be said that we are at a delicate and crucial crossroads: pluralism represents the cultural atmosphere of our times, the vital context in which stable convinctions, ingrained principles, criteria capable of generating consensus and mobilization are all mixed up. The impact is not indifferent compared to certain standards of evangelization and pathways of pastoral training, or to the interpretation of certain philosophical and theological categories. In short, today, no theological and missiological reflection is possible without the perception of the claims of pluralism and without understanding certain trajectories that affect the possibility of announcing the Gospels.

Pluralism is modifying the structures of plausibility of culture, revealing the face of a necessary relativism, which, however, is not separate from an aggresive relativism, which seems to translate anything goes into a theorem. At the same time it has changed the way in which we look on the role and meaning of the religious experience, within the context of human existence. What counts is the indication of a religious meaning appropriate to the needs of man. It is of little interest if this entails a contamination of the world we belong to or the use of a larger number of religious suggestions.
The reflection on pluralism and the mission should be viewed against the backdrop of these issues.

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