Navigating the Islands of Faith

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IN the ninth and last essay, the writer asks, “What can we learn from the missionary journey of the Church after 500 years?” The writer is not a historian in the strict disciplinal sense of the word. He is a Catholic priest, a missiologist, theology professor, and pastor. He is what you may call a historian of faith. In this essay, titled “Mission Makes the Church: New Horizons of Missio Ad Gentes for the Philippines Today and Beyond,” Fr. Andrew Gimenez Recepcion is once more a pilgrim.

While we, laypersons and critical viewers of our own colonized history, have our own take on the Church we belong to, the book, The Islands of Faith enables us to look at the unfolding of events from the institutional Church. More than privileging an intellectual position, Recepcion, with confidence presents another view, not any less important than those we, the laity, uphold. For Recepcion, “celebrating the quincentennial of the arrival of Christian faith is not like dusting off a precious artifact that has been kept in a museum for 500 years.” He stresses: “In fact, mission is ever new, valid and urgent at all times and for all peoples.”

We do have our own concepts of missions and missionaries. We think of religious men and women traveling to distant and remote places. Somehow, we cannot think of our neighborly parish priest as a missionary. Recepcion corrects these impressions and more. He notes how the world has rapidly changed and how “Missiologists today suggest that we need a new mindset, a new language and a new praxis when we talk about missio ad gentes.” The term, “missio ad gentes” literally means “our mission toward all the people” but, in a broader sense, it points to the phrase of going out into the world to preach the Gospel to all people.

Religion being contentious, perhaps we may find these concepts unnecessary, but the value of the essay goes beyond the formal content of evangelization; rather, it shows us a very old organization being conscious of the massive shifts happening to the social world in which all kinds of religions are located. Thus, Recepcion, a lecturer at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, states: “Mission in our contemporary society has multifaceted human frontiers in today’s disrupted, hybrid, and global world.”

When one reads the essays in the book of Recepcion, one is made acutely aware of a world where religion participates in a tapestry rather than a territorial enclave. The variation in the people’s response and the changes in one’s religion all underscore a point-of-view ready to accommodate alterations and shifting. The essays are also differing in terms of persuasion and level of knowledge. There is the first essay, which is about Diakonia and how the word changes in terms of usage and historical context. The word can mean “mediator” but not a servant or a slave. The scholar, as expected, cites non-Christian sources if only to ferret out the nuances of the word. Relevant to his world as a missiologist, Diakonia can refer to listening to a command and executing it, a notion that gives rise to the servant-leader or servant-Church.

From hermeneutical exercise, the essay goes to tackle Mission as Counter-Cultures in the Global Village. At the heart of this essay is the multi-pronged piece on globalization, defined as a force that becomes out of our control. The essay has the feel of a popular rumination, with talks about the ubiquitous SM and its megamalls. Recepcion writes: “In the dynamics of cultural globalization, megamall is one of the indicators of the Philippines as one global nation. It could be considered as a new temple of Filipinos where they can come in contact with the values of the global village through the various manifestations of global culture offering promises of flawless beauty, better comforts, new identity and virtual reality.” Then, Recepcion, aware of the corporate social responsibility of SM as manifested in the holding of Masses in their premises, speaks of how these malls “can create new avenues for reaching out to the unchurched (underscoring mine) and opening up new pastoral strategies like celebrating Sunday Masses in megamalls and putting up prayer rooms or chapels as one of the services provided by the operators.” Recepcion closes the paragraph with this: “A megamall captures cultural globalization in the local scene.”

More topics are covered by this collection of essays, with the other papers dealing with the themes of diaspora or migration, ecology, and Pentecostalism.

One of the most accessible essays in the compendium is the one on migration. It is also the most incisive with Recepcion asking or doubting how migration is perceived as having had an impact on our identity. Against the perception that migration has become an integral part of the culture in the Philippines, he inquires whether the Filipino value system supports the conclusion that “migration has become a constitutive part of Filipino identity in the sense of culture as existential symbolization, that is, as a source of meaning and identity.”

The book, The Islands of Faith. Crossroads of Mission, is published by the Ateneo de Naga University. Its author, Andrew Gimenez Recepcion, is a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Nueva Caceres. He is currently the Spiritual Director of the Pontifical College, Rome, Italy. He holds a doctorate in Missiology from the Pontifical University in Rome, Italy. The book was launched during the month-long celebration called Saeculum, organized by the Ateneo de Naga University Press, Ateneo de Naga University Research Council, Savage Mind Bookshop, Tugawe Cove Café, Isarog Highlands, in cooperation with the National Book Development Board.


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