A reflection by Fr. Jean Rolex, C.M on the challenges of the Congregation of the Mission for a promising future!

At the start of a new year, we all, on a personal, general or group level, tend to chart new paths and set new challenges for our lives, ranging from small goals to grand ideals. Today, too, humanity is facing urgent challenges for a better future, challenges that include the ecological problem[1] and global ecological conversion[2] , as well as the need to eliminate the structural causes responsible for the dysfunctions of the world economy and to correct growth models that seem incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment[3] . We also need to address climate change, global warming, poor access to clean drinking water for all, the loss of biodiversity in nature[4] and the growing gap between social classes, among other extreme social situations that demand attention. Also, at the beginning of the year, the Congregation of the Mission, which goes on pilgrimage in the world serving the poor, sets goals and proposals that keep it motivated, creative, enthusiastic and strengthened. This reflection summarises and explains the most important challenges that we understand the Congregation must face and overcome in order to advance and improve its future.

Recently, the Congregation of the Mission held its 43rd General Assembly under the theme: “Revitalising our identity at the beginning of the fifth centenary of the Congregation of the Mission“. It seems essential to us to return to the Conclusive Document of that Assembly, since it names the major challenges that the Congregation is planning to overcome in order to set itself on the road to a promising future. The first challenge is to “revitalise our Vincentian identity“, that is to say, to give life to our spirituality, our way of life and our ministries. But the revitalisation of our identity necessarily involves reconnecting with our roots, with the origins of our spirituality and charism.[5] What does it mean then to reconnect with our roots? It means: to re-engage ourselves, to read and pray with our Common Rules, our Constitutions and Statutes.

These are fundamental documents in the life of a missionary. They embody the spirituality and charism that Vincent de Paul left us. They are books qualified to inspire and guide us towards a promising future. Now: to what e extent do we as a Congregation let ourselves be inspired and guided by them, do we take the time to read them, how much do we a know about them? Nowadays, and for various reasons, many missionaries do not read enough, often forgetting the beauty of our spirituality, our identity and our mission. It is therefore urgent to restore a taste for reading among missionaries, especially among the younger ones. No one loves what he does not know. That is why, if we want to fall in love with our charism, we must know our Common Rules, our Constitutions and Statutes. These respond to what the Congregation thinks of itself and how it wants to present itself today in the Church: a Congregation that seeks perfection in charity. May they guard us and lead us safely to the desired end!

The second challenge is the need to rediscover the beauty of mission and its importance in the life of the Church and of the “Little Company“. Our Congregation is born and lives from mission. But as our world becomes increasingly secularised, individualistic, permissive, relativistic, materialistic, hedonistic and consumerist, we see with sadness that the “Little Company” is considerably diminished in its task of evangelising the world. At present, there is in our Congregation a weakening of missionary conviction and a shortage of holiness among our missionaries[6] . Without realising it, we are being absorbed by worldliness, pessimism and spiritual laziness[7] which contaminate the missionaries. What should we do in the face of this problem? The Holy Father advises us: an urgent missionary conversion and commitment to holiness[8] . Mission remains an urgency. The world needs the evangelising Christ of the poor. Mission can save our vocation and our identity. Mission has the power to transform. Let us, then, recover among ourselves the same love and desire of St. Vincent for mission.

A third challenge for the Congregation is to recover the beauty of our vocation in the face of a culture that is often controlled by the external, the immediate, the visible, the visible, the quick, the superficial, the provisional. In what does the beauty of our vocation consist? The beauty of our vocation consists in the fact that Christ’s mission is our own mission, his charism is our own charism and his spirituality is our own spirituality (cf. XI, 383). A vocation of such beauty must be fostered, protected and promoted, especially among the young. There is no doubt that God continues to call. But, as a Congregation, it is up to us to cultivate vocations and to build “a culture of vocations“. Vocation culture is a fashionable concept in our Congregation. However, what are we doing concretely to create it? What profound change are we willing to make to foster it? The success and growth of vocations will depend on the profound changes that our Congregation is willing to make, not only structural changes, but also changes that influence the way we live our fidelity to Christ the evangeliser of the poor and to our Vincentian identity. Without the Congregation’s fidelity to its own vocation, any effort or change in vocation ministry would not bear true fruit.

The challenges mentioned above are complementary and familiar to most missionaries. How do we want to face them? What role can the time factor play in this revitalisation of our identity? How does the time factor condition the quality of our spirituality, our lifestyle, and our mission? Do we take adequate time to stop and really encounter God and others in prayer? Do what we do truly lead us into a deeper relationship with Christ? Do we take adequate time to learn about the intercultural life of our Congregation? How well do we accept others who come from a different culture? Do we care enough to take the time to try to reread the history of the peoples who make up our Congregation?

Definitely, if we really want to overcome the challenges posed, we must dedicate time to them and stop to reflect, based on Christ and the Vincentian charism, on what we are doing and how we are doing it. It is also important that we remember those moments of our encounter with the Congregation of the Mission and of the Congregation with us. Remembering those moments will be the source from which we will draw strength to continue to dedicate ourselves to the mission of Christ the evangeliser of the poor.

By Jean Rolex, C.M.

[1] Paul VI (1971). Apostolic Letter Octogesima adveniens. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/.

[2] John Paul II (2001). Catechesis on the commitment to avert ecological catastrophe. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/.

[3] Benedict XVI (2007). Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/.

[4] Francis (2015). Encyclical Letter. Laudato Si. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/.

[5] Tomas Mavric (2022). Reflection for the 2022 General Assembly, Vincentiana, 66 (3 and 4), 375-387.

[6] Rolando Santos (2022). The Mission Ad Gentes and the Identity of the Congregation of the Mission. Vincentiana, 66 (3y4), 409-417.

[7] Francis (2013). Apostolic Exhortation. Evangilii Gaudium. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va.

[8] Ibid,