No29 March 1998.3
Census Canada of 1996 told us that before 1961 there were 4945 Africans in Canada. Nowadays there are 229 300 living here. If you add the blacks from the Caribbean, from Bermuda or those whose origins are African we reach the number of 575 000. If you consider only the Africans, there are according to Immigration Canada, 115 810 in Ontario ( 100 000 in Toronto ), and 62 510 in Quebec (50 000 in Montreal). Were we speaking of the United States, we would reach the millions of Afro-Americans.
We can no longer restrict Africa to its continent but we must include all the Africans living in our country, our provinces, our cities. These Africans want to find a place in our society and become part of it. They are not ignorant or beggars. On the contrary,a good number among them have an education superior to the average and they want to contribute to the betterment of our society. They wish to do their share in the foundation of a better human and Christian future of our country.
That is why they question the population and especially the Society of the Missionaries of Africa. They question us as well as disturb our sensibilities. How are we to help them help us ?
Our Missionary Society stresses the fact that we are to serve our african brothers and sisters wherever they may be while taking into account the following elements: the implantation of the Gospel, the gospel message adapted to their culture, the promotion of justice, hence the fight for human rights, the expansion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue and as far as the White Fathers are concerned, a preference for the dialogue with the Muslims.
How do we see our mission today ? Are we to act in the same way with the Africans in Canada as we were doing with those in Africa ? Has the evangelization of our brothers and sisters changed in the past decades ?
During a whole period of time, the evangelization as lived in our Western countries was seen as promotion. That was part of a whole context in which the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (in Rome),was directly responsible for the Missions. The Mission was considered as an implantation of the Church. The Congregation was assigning definite territories to the missionary institutes. Then the members of these institutes were asking the people of their respective countries to come to the help at that mission "ad extra" to which they were sent. Coming from a western Christian world, the missionaries, guardians of the apostolic truth and keepers of the Gospel treasure, were spreading the content of the divine Revelation in a foreign land. These apostles were flying, as it were, to help the material and spiritual needs of the third world.
With Vatican 2 came a certain evolution in the way of looking at the mission. In the Western world, evangelization was lived as an animation. The Mission had become the responsibility of the whole Church, more specially of the Episcopal Conferences. Animation consisted in making the People of God more aware of their missionary responsibility. John-Paul ll said it well in his encyclical : The mission concerns all the people of God...The necessity for all the faithful to share in such a responsilility is not only a question of apostolic efficiency: it is a duty and a right based on the dignity given at baptism... ( Redemptoris Missio,no.71). From promoter, the missionaries became animators. The evangelization consisted then in waking up the missionary spirit "asleep" in the hearts of the people.Holders of the christian theology, they were letting the Spirit animate the human beings in their focussing towards God's Kingdom.
Nowadays,it seems that a new vision of the mission is taking shape irrespective of the fact that this mission is taking place here or elsewhere, in North America or in Africa. In this new perspective,it is no more question of sending or receiving, of giving or getting as if we were on one side of the fence and the others on the other side. Today the mission is lived in terms of sharing, of reciprocity, of partnership and of dialogue.
Aware that the Spirit goes before us in the world, the missionary ought to waken up in the heart of the people the salvific presence of God.The mission is perceived as a meeting,a relationship where the apostle suggests a specific message : Jesus-Christ and the coming of the Kingdom. Has not the Church itself become a sign of this Kingdom ? For us, Missionaries of Africa in Canada, everything that will make the person grow and will favor the meeting of the cultures will go in the direction of that evangelization. It is for that reason that an AFRIKA CENTRE was opened in Montreal at St-Hubert street.
This idea of mission viewed as cooperation and partnership presupposes a first conviction: the mission does not belong to us:it is already fulfilled in Jesus-Christ. Nailed to the cross, Christ proclaimed that "All is accomplished" ; and he committed everything into the hands of his Father. The mission is no more that of the apostle, but belongs to the Master who did it all. On the other hand, if the mission is already accomplished, it is not yet over. Follows the second conviction: saved, all men and women carry within themselves some evangelical leaven; they are already members of God's Kingdom and as such are bearers of the christian message. We no longer talk about empty containers that must be filled but of full time members of God's Kingdom. As actors in the Kingdom, they have spiritual values to share. The evangelization is no more a one way street.
Once, the mission was done from North to South: from Europe and North America to Asia, Africa or South America. Nowadays, that mission is like a vast road network where you can go in every direction: specially if the territory has changed and the newly converted become the new missionaries. Then, the mission becomes the influence of the Good News from one nation to another and a gospel sharing between the Churches of the five continents.In this new perspective, our brotherhood is built as an interchange intended to facilitate the communication and the solidarity between the different people of that great village that has become our planet.
The Church is part of the world and the world is part of God's Kingdom, then that Church stresses the little communities, the option for the poor, oecumenism, the place of the lay people, the promotion of justice and peace. She makes her own the problems and hopes of humanity.
Missionaries are servants of the Spirit, they listen to what is going on in the hearts of their fellow men, especially of the oppressed. These ministers will be open to being evangelized by the poor, wherever they are from, convinced that the "last will be first" in the kingdom of the little ones. The messengers of the Good News need a good dose of humility, which is truth. The Good News tells us that all men are saved in Jesus-Christ and that therefore the evangelization can come from the sheep as well as from the shepherd.
Missionaries are still what they always have been, that is researchers of God amid the "unknown confines" of Africa or America. They are never discouraged because thay are sure that God is present where He seems to be absent: in the most remote, the more lost or in the darkest corners of the human beings.
At last, because of their faith, the missionaries are wreckers of frontiers. They are going further and further in their search for the "other ", be it in Montreal, in New York, in Kisangani or in Timbuktu. This opening to others is one of the most beautiful qualities of the true disciple of Jesus-Christ. Promoters, animators, or partners: it seems that God can write straight with the crooked lines made by the servants of the Gospel.
How will evangelization be called in the future?
A great indian saint of the XXth century, Mâ Ananda Moyî said: "You can call God by the name you like. At the proper time, He will tell you His real name." The Spirit will reveal to us which name the mission of tomorrow will take. As true disciples, let us keep our ears open.
Michel Fortin, M.Afr.