of the SVD 15th General Chapter 2000
Listening to the Spirit:
July 14, 2000
Gratitude and Hope
(1)On the threshold of the new millennium, we consider it a special
blessing to have gathered at Nemi to celebrate the 15th General Chapter of
the Society of the Divine Word. Taking place on the 125th anniversary of
our Society’s foundation, the Chapter was an occasion for us to look back
in gratitude and to look ahead in hope. We are profoundly grateful to the
Triune God for entrusting the beginnings of our religious missionary
family to Arnold Janssen and the men and women of the founding generation.
Along with subsequent generations of missionaries, they form a “cloud of
witnesses” (Heb 12:1) spurring us on to face the future with confidence
and continue the work they began.
(2)The 15th General Chapter has been the high point in a long process of
listening to the Spirit in order to renew our missionary response today.
At all levels of the Society during the past three years, all of us,
individually and as communities, have sought to read the “signs of the
times” and discern what the Spirit is telling us now. This process was an
effort to place ourselves and our Society entirely under the guidance and
direction of the Spirit, in the conviction that missionary activity is by
its very nature his work and revelation (c. 105).
(3)The present document is one fruit of this process of seeking the
guidance of the Spirit. In it we articulate our missionary charism anew in
creative fidelity to the legacy of our Founder and the founding generation
and in response to the challenges of today. With it we renew our
commitment to mission in our time, confident in the abiding presence of
(4)In this process of listening to the Spirit, we have rediscovered the
need for ongoing discernment in mission.
(5)Firstly, we believe that it is the Spirit who both enables us to
recognize signs in the contemporary world and empowers us to probe their
positive and negative import for mission. It may be that signs of
suffering, such as poverty, marginalization, ethnic conflicts, and
interreligious violence, more easily catch our attention. But there are
also more hopeful signs including the growing awareness of human rights,
the struggle against corruption and world debt, the spirited campaign to
protect the integrity of creation, and the resolute dedication of many
different religious groups to collaborate together in life-enhancing
initiatives. All of these are truly heartening and no less remarkable.
(6)Furthermore, we believe that the Spirit is intimately and inseparably
linked with the Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and encountered in Holy
Scripture. Constitution 407 assures us that “by reading the Scriptures we
open our hearts to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who helps us grasp
the word, make it our own and announce it to the world.” At every stage of
its unfolding, our commitment to mission is to be nurtured by a constant
recourse to Sacred Scripture. Prayerful pondering and reflective silence
make the biblical word alive for us and illumine our reflection. The
insights we gain through the serious study of the world and the word of
God need to be sifted in prayer so that our decision-making becomes a
genuine exercise of discernment.
(7)Finally, we believe that community is the ideal context for
discernment. It is true that the Spirit often speaks through the creative
insights of individuals, but we are convinced that such intuitions need to
be tested in community, where our charism and tradition can be brought
into the discernment process. Obviously the struggle involved in striking
a balance between individual and community discernment will remain. But
community deliberations, both within our religious community and with the
people we serve, do often become the real touchstone of a Spirit-inspired
Along the Path of Post-Conciliar Renewal
(8)The reflections on our missionary response today, which we offer in
this document, are but another step in the journey of discernment
undertaken after Vatican II for the purpose of renewing our Society. Over
four general chapters, from the 9th in 1967/68 to the 12th in1982, our
efforts centred on updating our Constitutions and giving a renewed
expression to our missionary charism. Subsequent developments prompted us
to continue to reflect on, and deepen our understanding of, our call to
mission. The 13th General Chapter in 1988 is memorable for its
introduction of the theme of “Passing Over” which runs through the
threefold document on SVD Mission, Spirituality and Formation. The 14th
General Chapter in 1994 focused its attention on the theme of “Communion.”
In this 15th General Chapter in the Jubilee Year 2000, we wish to widen
the horizons of our understanding still more and to recommit ourselves to
(9)It is obvious that a document like the present one cannot say
everything about our life and work as a religious missionary congregation.
Its main purpose is to further clarify our call to mission, reaffirm our
missionary response today, and indicate a direction for the future. With
this in view, in the following pages we will take stock of the Context
of Mission Today, articulate Our Call to Mission, and set
Our Missionary Response.
I. The Context of Mission Today
(10)We first consider the context of mission today, one that has become so
complex that it is almost impossible to present a comprehensive account of
it. We are aware of important “signs of the times,” both positive and
negative, which demand serious and specific responses from each of us
personally, from our local communities and provinces, and from our general
administration. We limit ourselves to sketching a brief outline of some of
these elements in our contemporary world.
1. Our World Today
1.1. Major World-Changing Trends
(11)Globalization. Society is changing at a dizzying pace as
innovations in communication, information and transportation technologies
reshape our world. Global and local life conditions are becoming much more
integrated. A global free-market economy is being organized based on what
is usually called “neo-liberalism,” with its diverse economic, social and
ideological aspects. These include the ruthless pursuit of profit at the
cost of scandalous poverty and horrendous suffering both in developing and
developed countries, and the marginalization and exclusion of large groups
of people and indeed of whole geographical areas.
(12)Urbanization. The rapidly growing world population is
concentrating in larger cities. Many rural communities are withering as
cities and mega-cities boom. Overcrowding ensues and unemployment
increases. People are forced to accommodate themselves to the more
aggressive rhythms and faster pace of city life, often in inhuman
conditions. In particular, the city holds a special attraction for youth
who, uprooted from the traditional values and patterns of life, frequently
experience a loss of identity.
(13)Migrants, Refugees, and Displaced People. The search for
better living conditions is producing massive migration among the poor.
Within countries, people move in search of easier access to work, health
care and education. On the international level, similar motivations induce
large numbers of people to move from the South to the North and from the
East to the West. In addition, the political, ethnic and religious
conflicts which afflict many parts of the world have uprooted millions
from their families and homeland, making ours an “age of refugees.”
(14)Quest for Liberation. Although political and economic
changes have certainly altered the landscape in the movement for
liberation, the quest persists unabated among many peoples. The fall of
East European Socialism has further changed the political and economic
balance of forces. Yet the struggle for greater freedom and autonomy of
peoples and for a transformation of society — including an increasingly
stronger thrust towards the emancipation of women — continues in different
parts of the world. It is true, however, that a certain sense of
frustration and impotence often accompanies such movements today. The
dominant political and economic powers, often abetted by a compliant and
manipulated mass media, try to convince people that there is no viable
alternative to the neo-liberal model. This challenges us to stimulate the
search for a more humane and just economic system.
1.2. Some Consequences
(15)Although there are positive elements in global integration, it has
become evident that, on the cultural and social levels, core elements of
the neo-liberal ideology underlying the imposition of economic
liberalization are profoundly inhuman, and therefore anti-evangelical. Its
prevailing concern is for profit rather than for justice or the dignity of
human life, and its instinct to “let the market decide” favours the
interests of the powerful. In many areas the privatization of essential
services (such as health, education, roads and water supplies) has only
increased the marginalization of the poor.
(16)Social and Political Consequences. While greater world
integration has come about, there is also an inbuilt process of exclusion
that is at work on the economic, social and political levels. The gap
between the rich and poor is widening as large groups are left out of the
new economic order. While world and local economies produce massive
wealth, the poor, unemployed and powerless are simply pushed to the
fringes of society, often without even the bare minimum for survival.
Women, children, the aged and the weak are generally the first to be
excluded. The situation is one of structural violence. In such a context,
crime, hatred and war thrive, often fomented by the arms trade and drug
trafficking, allied to endemic corruption in many countries.
(17)At the same time, many groups are organizing themselves to promote
wider local and global solidarity. Many among the excluded, by working
together, are becoming important social actors (e.g. women, indigenous
peoples, Afro-Americans, dalits in India, people affected by HIV/AIDS,
etc.). Many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have contributed to this
conscientization and organization.
(18)Ecological Consequences. Certainly one of the “victims”
of the process of the new economic order and neo-liberal ideology has been
“mother earth.” The unscrupulous search for profit has led to the
irresponsible exploitation of the planet’s limited resources, causing
grave damage to the ecosystem. Continued plundering of nature and abuse of
the environment are seriously endangering the earth’s future. Indeed we
have arrived at a crisis point.
(19)At the same time, however, we can see a
growth of ecological consciousness in recent years. We are more conscious
that we share the planet as a common home and are more ready to protest
against dominant economic forces which show little respect for the
environment. It has become apparent how fragile the earth is and how
important it is to care for God’s creation.
(20)Cultural Consequences. People from different cultures are in much
closer contact today. Most cities are inhabited by widely diverse cultural
groups. Television, radio and films, the internet, newspapers and
magazines, popular music and fashion, all flood our lives with images from
near and far, stimulating a “consumer mentality.” Global integration is
producing cultural change at breakneck speed. It comes so fast that it is
impossible to assimilate its consequences. People find themselves exposed
to pressures and challenges that they have rarely had to confront before.
Different elements are juxtaposed rather than integrated into a common
pattern. The fragmentation and depersonalization of life, allied to a
consequent multiplication of world-views, have become typical elements of
(21)In the process, groups and individuals feel excluded from the reshaping
of cultural ways. They suspect that everyone is being forced into a
monocultural world. The feelings of exclusion and wariness have helped to
provoke cultural revivals, with stress on local languages, music,
mythmaking, etc. The same feelings have also induced an increase in
ethnocentrism and in inter-ethnic tensions and violence. Cultural groups
today show both a deeper awareness regarding human rights and an
increasing tendency to individualism.
(22)Religious Consequences. Given the rapid change in our
world, many feel the need for a deeper meaning to give direction to their
lives. As a result, while many have become completely secularized, in
others there is a thirst for the Holy and for the experience of the
Transcendent. In some parts of the world, religion is in a revival phase.
The current stress on individual choice means that proposals from
institutionalized religious bodies do not find automatic acceptance. Truth
and meaning are regarded as matters of individual discernment based on
personal experience. Many people find the guidance and support they seek
in small groups or in independent churches. Pentecostal/Charismatic groups
are thriving, as are many new religious movements. Religious
fundamentalism and pronounced secularism are growing side by side in many
parts of the world. Thus, religious revival is an ambiguous phenomenon,
which can serve either to help liberate or alienate the poor and
(23)The mobility of peoples has also placed different religious communities
in closer contact. Consequently, there is growing interest in
interreligious dialogue and in efforts for interfaith collaboration to
address concrete social needs. There is also the phenomenon of multiple
religious affiliations. At the same time, as people refocus their identity
in a particular faith community, there is often a growth in religious
intolerance and interreligious violence.
2. Our Church Today
(24)The Church today has become truly worldwide, although, in some
countries, Christians form but a tiny minority. In our own Catholic
tradition, in almost every part of the world local churches have been
established as part of a worldwide communion. There are many encouraging
signs, such as the increasing commitment of the laity, action for justice
and peace, efforts towards interreligious dialogue, etc. The resulting
diversity of local church customs and theologies frightens a good many
Church members and authorities. Some react by insisting on uniformity in
the interest of protecting unity and others by advocating innovation
without regard for its effects. Still others patiently encourage the
development of structures for dialogue that lead to mutual understanding
and protect both unity and diversity.
(25)In many areas, the institutional Church seems to have regressed in
recent years, with a consequent crisis of authority for many people.
Clericalism has become more accentuated; at times the wishes of local
Churches regarding Episcopal nominations are disregarded; and the
exclusion of women from decision-making processes continues. There is also
a credibility gap due to moral scandals that have rocked the Church in
various countries. An enormous amount remains to be done for the
inculturation of the Gospel.
(26)As with so many other aspects of Church life, Vatican II was a
watershed in the understanding and practice of mission. The previous epoch
emphasized almost exclusively the role of the professional (usually
foreign-born) missionary. “Mission” was generally understood to refer to
Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America. The immediate goals of mission
were to establish the local Church and to invite non-Christians to
conversion so they could be saved.
(27)In our own day we emphasize that the entire Church is missionary, while
recognizing a diversity of roles in the Church’s wide-ranging activities.
The “locus” of mission is understood more in terms of specific missionary
situations than in terms of geographical territory. And the long-term goal
of mission is much more prominent, i.e., to gather the whole of humanity
into the Kingdom of God. This is done through explicit proclamation of the
Good News and respectful dialogue with people of other faith traditions,
by inviting women and men into a community of witness and service, and by
bringing God’s mission of integral salvation to each person.
(28)Martyrdom has become a reality in the life of many local Churches. It
has become clear that prophetic witness to the Gospel necessarily brings
with it the opposition of the powerful and the oppressors, be they of the
Left or the Right. Religious missionaries are called to be unconditionally
on the side of the oppressed, to be martyrs (i.e., witnesses) to the
radical following of Jesus in the living out of his concrete options in
our own contexts.
3. Our Society Today
(29)Our Society is experiencing many trends that parallel those in the
wider Church. Our membership is more diverse than ever. While, until
recent times, SVD missionary service was carried out largely by members
from Europe or of European ancestry, the bulk of the membership is now
coming from the former “mission territories.” Our global distribution of
personnel allows for the formation of international/intercultural
communities in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, various
restrictions in some countries prevent us from giving a more fully
(30)The development of our Zones, with their respective subzones, is
gradually helping us see beyond our own specific apostolate and even
beyond our communities, provinces or regions. Gradually, and perhaps
painfully, we are growing in communion and acquiring a sense that we
belong not just to a province/region but to the Africa-Madagascar (AFRAM),
Pan-American (PANAM), Asia-Pacific (ASPAC), or European (EUROPE) zone.
Slowly, and hopefully surely, we are learning to think more globally and
to feel more deeply with the whole Society.
(31)This external development has been accompanied by an increasing
awareness of our foundational charism and of SVD spirituality. The Arnold
Janssen Spirituality Centre has played an important role in this respect,
as has the joint effort of the three congregations founded by Blessed
Arnold to collaborate more closely together, with greater unity of
objectives and motivation.
(32)The growth of a community consciousness among the confreres is
encouraging, as is the fact that our overall membership is growing and
becoming steadily younger. Nevertheless, in some countries there is both a
lack of vocations – especially to the Brotherhood - and an aging
membership. Overall, however, the picture of our Society today is
positive. There is much that we should be happy about, and we can only
thank God for all the blessings bestowed on our Society over the last 125
(33)At the same time we recognize that our international community living
is in many ways conditioned by a past which has often been marred by
ethnocentrism, clericalism and individualism. We acknowledge that not
infrequently our Brothers have been treated unfairly and our indigenous
confreres have not been treated as equals. We have sometimes lacked
respect for local cultures and religious traditions in our missionary
approach, even to the point of disregarding the sovereignty and dignity of
the people among whom we have worked. Towards the SSpS Sisters, we have
sometimes lacked due respect and fraternal love. For these and other
mistakes, in this Jubilee Year 2000, the year of reconciliation, we ask
pardon of God and the people concerned.
II. Our Call to Mission
(34)The changed and changing context of mission makes even more urgent the
task of renewing our missionary response. The starting point of such
renewal must always be the conviction that mission is first of all the
work of God (Redemptoris Missio [RM] 24) and that our calling is but a
call to share in the mission of the Triune God. By the will of the Father
and the work of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Word mediates life to the
world and thereby draws us into communion.
1. The Mission of the Triune God: From Creation to New Creation
“In the beginning was the Word...
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1,3).
The Word of God is communication, self-expression and saving event (Isa
55: 10-11). Therefore, to attribute the world and all life to its creative
agency is to say that creation itself is the beginning of the history of
God’s self-communication and saving action. This is beautifully portrayed
in the opening of Genesis with its imagery of the divine Spirit hovering
over the formless void, while God’s Creating Word carves a universe out of
primeval chaos (Gen 1:2,3). Its message is clear: God freely creates us
and graciously calls us forth to share in the life and love of Creator,
Word and Spirit (Ad Gentes [AG] 2).
(36)But what we have so far experienced of life and love is only a
beginning and is always threatened by the forces of chaos, sin and evil.
Under the constant guidance of the Spirit and the light of the Word, the
whole of creation is groaning and in labour pains (Rom 8: 18-23) until all
is transformed into a new Creation. The author of the Book of Revelation
describes the future toward which we strain: “Then I saw a new heaven and
a new earth... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the
home of God is among mortals... they will be his peoples, and God himself
will be with them’” (Rev 21:1,3).
(37)Others, particularly in the time of Jesus, would have called the object
of their hope the Kingdom or Reign of God. This was expressed in the
kaddish, a synagogue prayer of praise that Jesus would have known from
childhood. It is a prayer for the coming of the kingdom that has been
recited by the Jewish people for over two thousand years, often in
situations of the most dreadful tragedy, cruelty and violence:
“Exalted and hallowed be his great name,
in the world which he created according to his will.
May he let his kingdom rule
in your lifetime and in your days
and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel
speedily and soon.
Praised be his great name from eternity to eternity…”
(38)Down through the ages many sages and prophets, humble servants and
mighty rulers, wandering tribes and whole nations have expressed a longing
for something beyond (for examples, read Hebrews 11). This yearning
itself is a sign of the Spirit’s ceaseless invitation to humanity to
become partners in the divine mission.
(39)In Luke’s Gospel, that history of invitation to partnership in mission
reaches a definitive moment when Mary says “yes” to becoming the mother of
the Messiah. Just as the life-giving Spirit hovered over the waters at the
first creation, the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the
Most High will overshadow her. “Therefore the child to be born will be
called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The virgin becomes the mother of
the Christ who is the new creation of the Spirit. Traditionally,
Christians have related the words of the fourth gospel to this moment:
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
(40)For Luke, therefore, it is clear that the Spirit is Spiritus vivificans:
the dynamic principle of the New Creation expected in the “last days” (see
his redaction of Joel 3:1 at Acts 2:17); and that wherever Jesus is
present, there also the Reign of God is making its presence felt as
liberating grace (Luke 11:20). The days of Jesus are the days of the
Kingdom (Luke16:16). Conceived through the Spirit’s power and anointed
with the Spirit at the Jordan (Acts 10:38; Luke 3:22), he manifests the
presence of the Spirit struggling with the forces of evil and creating
people’s lives anew. “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus . . . was led by
the Spirit into the desert” (Luke 4:1) where he struggled with, and
overcame, temptations to work wonders that were at odds with the path he
had chosen as Servant of the Lord. “In the power of the Spirit” (Luke
4:14), he entered the synagogue at Nazareth and introduced his missionary
program with the words “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” What followed
was the good news in terms of liberation, with special reference to the
economically and socially poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed and
afflicted, the forgotten and the neglected:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord”
(41)The proclamation meets with rejection in the synagogue at Nazareth
(Luke 4:28-29). It is a Lukan reminder that Jesus’ message is related to
his cross. His teaching was certainly perceived to be a threat by the
political and religious leadership of his time and was largely
misunderstood. He himself was rejected as a blasphemer, condemned as a
criminal, and died a cruel and humiliating death on the cross. But for
Luke this was precisely the moment of Jesus’ personal ‘exodus’ (Luke 9:31;
23:46) when he passed over into a larger and fuller experience of the
Spirit. Out of this moment, the Christian community would come to life:
“God raised Jesus ....
Exalted at the right hand of God,
he received the promise
of the Holy Spirit from the Father
and poured it forth,
as you both see and hear” (Acts 2:32,33).
2. The Church: Called to Share in the Mission of the Triune God
(42)There is in the New Testament a very close connection between the
incentive to mission and the gift of the life-giving Spirit that comes
from the Risen Lord. In John, it is expressed in the imagery of Christ on
Easter Sunday giving the disciples a share in his mission: “As the Father
has sent me, so I send you.” He who died to take away the sin of the world
shares with his own his reconciling work (John 20:23). He enlivens them
for this by breathing the Spirit into them (John 20:21-22), just as God
breathed into the nostrils of Adam and made him “a living being” (Gen
2:7). In Acts, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit takes hold of Jesus’
disciples, vanquishes their fears, and sends them out to bear witness to
Jesus as “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). They announce the dawning of the
New Creation in their Risen Lord (see 2 Cor 5:17-19). As with Jesus, so
with the Church: the Spirit is the dynamic principle, the inner life, of
mission: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Listening to the Spirit
determines the direction of mission (Acts 1:4; 8:29; 16:7) and its
outreach to the non-Jewish world (Acts 10:19; 11:12; 15:28; 21:4).
(43)From its earliest days, therefore, the Church has understood itself as
missionary by its very nature. Through word and sacrament, through prayer
and service, it carries the message to the far corners of the earth.
Within the broad sweep of God’s salvific mission for the world, the Church
has an important and irreplaceable role as sacrament and servant of the
Reign of God. New communities of disciples come into being. In
acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Christ, they are to make the mission
program he announced in Nazareth their own (Luke 11:28). The Church
promotes love of God, love of neighbour and even love of enemies. It works
for human promotion, justice and peace, care for the sick, relief for
sufferers (RM 20).
(44)Because mission is the work of the Triune God, and the Spirit blows
where it wills, the Church carries out its service to the Kingdom in
collaboration with other faith communities and all people of good will. We
are reminded of the metaphors Jesus used to describe how his disciples
were to relate to the world around them: salt, light and leaven.
(45)In reaching out to the world to promote greater communion, the Church
is aware that the Reign of God is a reality more extensive than itself
(Lumen Gentium [LG] 5). It rejoices that God’s saving presence has been,
and continues to be, present in the history, cultures and religions of all
peoples (RM 28, 29). Through the Spirit’s guidance and the Light of the
Word, the community of Jesus’ disciples is continually invited to venture
out beyond its own confines as a visible, historical reality, until the
complete communion of our human family is achieved in the banquet of the
Reign of God (Isa 25:6; Matt 8:11).
3. The SVD: Called by the Spirit to Share in the Church’s Mission
(46)The Spirit constantly raises up communities which place themselves at
the disposal of the Church to help accomplish her missionary task. 125
years ago, in response to the call of the Spirit and the challenges of his
times, Arnold Janssen founded the Society of the Divine Word as a
missionary community (Prologue to Constitutions). As followers of the
Word, we feel particularly called to go beyond the visible-historical
Church, to witness to the gospel where it has not been preached at all or
only insufficiently (c. 102), and to seek the light that the Word has
enkindled within every person and people. Thus we help to “gather the
scattered children of the Lord (John 11:52) and hasten the hour when all
will worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:23). In this way we
promote true human progress, go to meet the Lord as he comes and prepare
for his glorious second coming and the final fulfilment of all creation in
Christ” (c. 101).
(47)We are not the only ones who are called in this way — indeed all
members of the Church share in this common vocation. But there are
different ways in which the Church lives out her call to mission. So we
turn to the Spirit to discern our own specific contribution. In what
follows, we express what we recognize as the distinctive emphases in our
call as SVDs in today’s world by focusing on three realities: our
witnessing to the universality of the Reign of God, our commitment to a
fourfold prophetic dialogue in frontier situations, and the characteristic
dimensions of our charism.
3.1. SVD Witness to the Reign of God: Universality and Openness
(48)From the time of our Founder we have always felt called to share in the
mission of Jesus “to proclaim the Kingdom of God’s love” (Prologue to
Constitutions). In our call to pass over to other cultures and in our
charism of internationality, the particular contribution that we are
called to make in witnessing to the Reign of God is to highlight its
universal inclusiveness and its openness to diversity. Indeed our SVD
identity is rooted in this call to bear witness to God’s love precisely in
situations where its inclusive embrace is not recognized and where its
openness to the rich diversity of peoples is not appreciated.
(49)This particular contribution becomes even more necessary in the light
of the globalization that is reshaping our world today. On the one hand,
it is a fact that the phenomenon of globalization is not nearly inclusive
enough. Many are being excluded and abandoned along the way. The Reign of
God is a Reign of Love that includes absolutely everyone. In our
commitment, especially to the poor and marginalized, as well as in our own
communities, we are called to give witness to this universal embrace of
(50)On the other hand, the process of globalization produces in its wake a
uniformity that tends to eliminate all differences. It is not nearly open
enough to the wide diversity of peoples. The Reign of God is ever open to
the particularity of every person and people. In our love of all cultures
and peoples, as well as in our appreciation of the diversity in our own
communities, we are called to give witness to this open embrace of God’s
(51)Our call to witness to the universal and open love of God is not a call
to mere activism. Indeed our witness begins with our own experience of the
Reign of God in our personal lives and through our life in community (c.
106), and is expressed in our following of the Lord on the path of the
evangelical counsels. Our call to mission is, therefore, not only a call
to witness to God’s Reign through our apostolic service. It is equally a
call to build up among ourselves a missionary religious community that
gives an ever more credible witness to the Reign of God. In such a
community, all of us, including those who are sick or retired, also
contribute to mission through prayer and sacrifice.
3.2. Our Primary Missionary Commitments: The Fourfold Prophetic
(52)Our discussions in the Chapter have confirmed that our understanding of
ad gentes mission has shifted from an exclusively geographical orientation
to one that includes missionary situations. From our constitutions, the
work of recent Chapters, as well as the broader context in which our
mission is carried out today, we identify four frontier situations where
we hear a special call to respond: primary evangelization and
re-evangelization, commitment to the poor and marginalized, cross-cultural
witness, and interreligious understanding.
(53)There are several ways of articulating this specific call to mission.
We believe that the deepest and best understanding of this call is
expressed in the term “Dialogue,” or more specifically, “Prophetic
Dialogue.” Since Vatican II, dialogue with other religions has been
promoted widely as one aspect of the Church’s mission (RM 55). Our
specific commitment to this dialogue is reflected in our constitutions (c.
114) and the Statement of the 1988 General Chapter. However, already in
the Vatican II documents, the term “dialogue,” in all its richness, is
used in a wider meaning to describe our proper attitude toward and
relationship with all people. Dialogue is an attitude of “solidarity,
respect, and love” (Gaudium et Spes [GS] 3) that is to permeate all of our
activities. Limited as we are by our personal and cultural viewpoints,
none of us has attained the whole truth contained in God and revealed
fully in Christ. In dialogue we search together for this truth.
(54)It is in dialogue that we are able to recognize “the signs of Christ’s
presence and the working of the Spirit” (RM 56) in all people, that we are
called to acknowledge our own sinfulness and to engage in constant
conversion, and that we witness to God’s love by sharing our own
convictions boldly and honestly, especially where that love has been
obscured by prejudice, violence, and hate. It is clear that we do not
dialogue from a neutral position, but out of our own faith. Together with
our dialogue partners we hope to hear the voice of the Spirit of God
calling us forward, and in this way our dialogue can be called prophetic.
Furthermore, dialogue is not limited to intellectual exchanges. Through
the dialogue of life, dialogue of common action for justice and peace, and
the dialogue of religious experience it finds expression in all aspects of
(55)In the following sections, we suggest some of the ways in which we live
out our missionary commitment to prophetic dialogue. In each case, we
articulate the challenges to deeper conversion that dialogue entails for
our personal lives and for our life in community. Then we mention some of
the tasks that we undertake within the local churches. Finally, we
indicate the tasks that we undertake together with the local churches as
we go out to the world.
3.2.1 ...with People Who Have No Faith Community and with
(56)Our call to mission is a call to reach out to faith-seekers and to
people who have no community of faith, to engage in primary evangelization
and re-evangelization. We include those who have never belonged to a faith
community, others who may be alienated from the Church, and still others
who may be searching for guidance beyond their own faith tradition. In
short, we include all of those people who might welcome an invitation to
be disciples of Jesus. We reach out to them in prophetic dialogue because
we believe, together with our Founder, that “to proclaim the Good News is
the foremost and utmost act of love for neighbour.”
(57)As we engage in dialogue with people who have no faith community and
with faith-seekers, we feel personally called to a continual passing over
from unbelief to deeper faith. At the same time, we feel called to
cultivate a faith-filled community life more firmly rooted in Jesus
Christ, the Living Word of God.
(58)We respond to this call when we urge the local Church to turn to the
world to give witness to the Good News through its presence, its service,
its joy and hope. We also encourage local communities to help the
faith-seekers of today feel welcome in the Church. This is especially
urgent where the practices and customs of the local Church seem to raise
barriers between the community and those who might be invited to follow
(59)We respond still more when, together with the local Church, we reach
out to those with no religious affiliation. When asked about the reason
for our hope (1 Pet 3:15), we are ready to share how Jesus’ life, death
and resurrection have helped us find deeper meaning for our lives. If they
respond with interest, we invite them to become Jesus’ disciples and we
welcome them to share in the ongoing mission of witnessing to the Reign of
3.2.2 ...with People Who Are Poor and Marginalized
(60)Our call to mission is a call to prophetic dialogue with the poor and
the marginalized of our world in seeking to promote integral human
development. At Nazareth, Jesus indicated that he had come to bring good
news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind and freedom to
the oppressed. Surely, those who are materially poor are always among the
first to suffer oppression, but myriad other reasons (gender, race,
appearance, physical ability, age, politics, educational attainment, etc.)
have been used to justify marginalization and oppression. Today, attentive
to the Word and Spirit of God and together with the poor and marginalized,
we face the realities of oppression in our Church and in our world as we
work for greater freedom.
(61)In committing ourselves to prophetic dialogue with the poor and
marginalized, we come to a deeper understanding that “our struggle is not
only against famine, ignorance and the denial of human rights but
especially against the sinfulness of the human heart which is at the root
of the oppressive structures and systems that cause these evils” (c.
112.2). Our vow of poverty should make us particularly sensitive to their
situation. We are personally called to continually pass over from egoism
to solidarity. As brothers to one another we cultivate a genuinely
fraternal community life that allows all confreres — young and old,
Brothers and clerics, superiors and members — a full share in the life and
decision making of the community.
(62)We respond to this call by promoting the full participation of the poor
and marginalized within the local Churches. We help to develop structures
whereby they are not merely passive observers, but rather active subjects
in their Church communities. Like Peter and Paul in the early Church, we
encourage solidarity within and between Church communities so that the
needs of all can be met.
(63)We respond still more when, together with the local Churches, we
struggle to empower the poor and marginalized to grow toward greater
well-being and full human dignity. We strive to see the world through
their eyes and, empowered by them, join in their struggle against unjust
social structures and the abuse of power. We build bridges of solidarity
among all people, regardless of economic and social position, and we help
to develop new patterns of communion inspired by the Reign of God.
3.2.3 ...with People of Different Cultures
(64)Our call to mission is a call to prophetic dialogue with people of
different cultures so as to learn from and share in the diversity of gifts
given by the God of Life. We also recognize that all cultures need
redemption from elements of sin and death. As witnesses to God’s Reign, we
promote a life-giving encounter between the Gospel and the particular
cultural and multicultural milieus.
(65)Our prophetic dialogue with people of other cultures requires a
continual personal conversion, a dying to ethnocentrism and racism and a
passing over to a more catholic spirit of appreciation of the other’s
cultural identity. The pain and joy of learning a new language and of
entering into the culture of the people with whom we work allows us a
small share in the dying and rising of Christ. We acknowledge that our
life in international/intercultural communities is sometimes marred by
misunderstanding and prejudice, and so we commit ourselves anew to witness
to God’s inclusive love in our own relations with each other.
(66)We respond to this call by encouraging the process of inculturation
within the local Churches so that the Good News becomes an integral part
of a people’s way of life. In turn, the impulses emerging from the
different cultures influence the interpretation of the Gospel. The
principal agent for inculturation is the local community. It requires a
close listening to the needs of the community and an invitation to its
members to make their own the way of life revealed in Jesus Christ.
Acceptance of the invitation transforms people’s values, attitudes and
actions, which in turn find expression in inculturated ways of faith life.
(67)We respond still more by working together with the local Churches to
contribute to the immense task of promoting life-giving values of the
local cultures. In this way the local Churches help to enrich the cultural
heritage of all the people, Christians and followers of other religious
and secular traditions.
3.2.4 ...with People of Different Religious Traditions and
(68)Our call to mission is a call to be more committed to prophetic
dialogue with the other Christian Churches, with followers of other
religious traditions, and with people committed to diverse ideologies.
Together with all these dialogue partners we hope to hear the voice of the
Spirit of God calling us forward in service. Our commitment to such
dialogue is especially important where Catholics are in the majority.
Otherwise we might rightly be suspected of promoting dialogue merely as a
“tactic” for those situations where Catholics are less numerous.
(69)We recognize that it is difficult to initiate and sustain prophetic
dialogue with people of other faith traditions and ideologies, and so it
seems ever more urgent to personally cultivate in ourselves attitudes of
passing over from suspicion to trust. At the same time, we are called to
foster a welcoming community life that embraces diverse styles of prayer
and religious expression and that fosters collaboration.
(70)We respond to this call by encouraging the members of each local Church
to cultivate attitudes of tolerance, openness and respect towards one
another and towards those who follow other religious and ideological
(71)We respond still more when, together with the local Church, we seek
ways to collaborate with people of other traditions and ideologies. We
promote religious tolerance, mutual respect and understanding, freedom of
conscience, and a better appreciation of shared human and spiritual
values. We work together on common projects, especially those that respond
to the demands for genuine peace and integral human development. Sometimes
we are even graced with opportunities to share our experience of the
Transcendent in a dialogue of prayer.
3.3. Characteristic Dimensions of SVD Missionary Response
(72)In seeking to deepen our self-understanding, we have come to recognise
some “characteristic dimensions” of our missionary life and service. We
use the term “characteristic dimensions” to speak of those elements in our
call that can be likened to family traits. At different times these
matters have been variously referred to as “priorities,” “areas,” and more
recently “essential dimensions.” Our widening experience of and deepening
reflection on these concerns has prompted the changes in terminology.
(73)In our use of the term, we include four matters which have received
special attention in the recent history of our Society and have been given
a clearer institutional profile through the appointment of provincial,
zonal and generalate coordinators. These are: Bible Apostolate (cc.
106-108), Mission Animation (cc. 109-111), JPIC or Justice, Peace and
Integrity of Creation (c.112), and Communication (c.115).
(74)Our characteristic dimensions invite us to deepen our experience of the
Divine Word in multiple ways. We get to know the Biblical Word whose story
is told in Scriptures. We proclaim the Animating Word who calls everyone
to share in mission. We commit ourselves to the Prophetic Word who
announces peace, justice and the transformation of all creation. We share
the Communicating Word who seeks only to be poured out in self-giving
(75)Three further observations need to be made to help us appreciate better
the significance of the notion of characteristic dimensions in our call to
(76)Firstly, although emphasis on characteristic dimensions has already
helped many confreres and provinces to gain a renewed focus on their
missionary service and thus have a clearer profile in some local Churches,
these dimensions are not sufficient to express SVD mission. Our commitment
to the fourfold prophetic dialogue is still more fundamental to our ad
gentes missionary charism. In fact, the dimensions are more clearly
“missionary” when set in the context of the fourfold prophetic dialogue.
(77)Secondly, the characteristic dimensions are not the preserve of
specialists, but the mark of every SVD. While it is certainly true that
each of the dimensions can be given expression in one or more specialized
ministries (Bible Centre, communications ministry, etc.), they are just as
truly “characteristic” for other SVDs. Whether confreres work in a parish,
school, or specific apostolate, whether they are administrators or
students, whether they are at the beginning of a life of missionary
service or near its end, their life and work ought to bear the marks of
the Biblical, Animating, Prophetic and Communicating Word.
(78)Finally, the characteristic dimensions are not only for our apostolic
service. While they certainly are gifts we want to share in all of our
activities, they are at least as important for our own community life.
Precisely as Divine Word Missionaries we seek to share the Bible together,
to animate one another, to be just and at peace with one another, and to
communicate with one another in fraternal love.
III. Our Missionary Response
(79)Gathering together our reflections on the context of mission
today, in the light of Scripture and the specific understanding
of our call, we choose the following directions for our missionary
activities in the coming years. We do not intend to review all of
our work and activities, but we single out those areas that seem to
be particularly urgent for our mission today. Obviously, what is
said here will need to be further contextualized by the zones,
provinces/regions, and local communities. The indications we give
come under three general headings: Responding to Contemporary
Challenges, Strengthening Our Existing Commitments, and
Renewing Our Internal Resources.
1. Responding to Contemporary Challenges
(80)Our rapidly changing world confronts us with many new challenges:
globalization, urbanization, migration, the ongoing quest for liberation,
and the impact all these have on the consciousness and the lives of
people. There are new situations in which we feel called to give witness
to the Reign of God. The following areas present themselves as
possibilities for renewed commitment or new initiatives:
(81)Racism. Given the rise of racism in so many parts of the
world and the certainty that we too are affected by it, we commit
ourselves to confronting racism within ourselves as individuals, within
the Society, and wherever else it exists.
(82)Integrity of Creation. We recognize that one of the
newest areas of missionary concern is that of working for the integrity of
creation. In the light of today’s ecological crisis, our concern for the
wellbeing of future generations leads us to commit ourselves to working
for a sustainable environment and to adopting a way of life that witnesses
to the importance of environmental concerns.
(83)Interfaith and Ecumenical Collaboration. Increased
interfaith and ecumenical collaboration is vital for the future of our
world. As ad gentes missionaries, we are grateful for opportunities to
share in dialogue and we commit ourselves to promoting such encounters.
Therefore we recommend that the provinces and regions participate
regularly in interreligious and ecumenical activities and that the members
of the Society pray often and publicly for God’s blessing on peoples of
other faith traditions.
(84)Urban Ministry. Statistics indicate that cities will
contain the majority of the world’s population in the next twenty years.
Thus, we need to commit more of our personnel and resources for urban
ministry, especially among the youth, the poor, the marginalized, and
indeed among all who are spiritually searching. Our ministry in urban
areas does not need to be limited to present parish structures. Urban
ministry should become a focus of our initial and ongoing formation
(85)Women. The place and role of women in the Church as well
as in the larger society, particularly their participation in
decisionmaking, is an area of concern for us. We commit ourselves to
working for equality between women and men. We also continue our efforts
to work even more cooperatively with our sister congregations, the Sister
Servants of the Holy Spirit and the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of
Perpetual Adoration. We resolve to extend our cooperation with women
(whether religious or lay) beyond the scope of our Arnoldus family.
(86)Migrants, Refugees, and Displaced People. Many in our
world today are forced to flee their land and country because of
political, military and other conflicts. Others migrate in search of a
better economic life. Whether forced or free, refugees, displaced people,
and migrants are of particular concern to us. We call on the provinces and
regions as well as the generalate, to continue, in cooperation with others
already involved in this work, to organize a response to the situation of
refugees, displaced people, and migrants.
(87)Media. We encourage media education and the use of the
means of communication to foster alternative values based on the Holy
Scriptures and a sense of the Transcendent. This will also counteract the
frequently negative impact of the mass media, which sometimes denies
religious and human values. Furthermore, innovations like electronic mail
and the internet should be explored as new means to proclaim the Gospel.
SVD websites should be established that offer an evangelizing presence on
(88)HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is a tragedy of global proportions,
decimating generations and destroying the economic infrastructure of
entire countries. Its spread is abetted by situations of poverty, lack of
availability of funds for proper medical care, and drug abuse, but most
particularly by ignorance and by reluctance to discuss sexual matters,
whether for cultural or religious reasons. Confreres need to be aware of
the rapid rate at which the HIV/AIDS crisis is escalating, and be prepared
to take action in the very early stages of the spread of the disease. We
should cooperate in awareness-raising and the correction of
misinformation, cultivating an atmosphere of frankness in dealing with the
issue. We should also increase our efforts of support for those affected
by this epidemic, helping to overcome the stigma that is frequently
attached to the disease.
2. Strengthening Our Existing Commitments
(89)While we must find ways to respond to new challenges, we also need to
look at our existing commitments in a new way, one prompted by the
changing times and by our continuing reflection on what our charism calls
us to do.
(90)Mission Statements. Our constitutions spell out how we
are to live and work as SVD missionaries. However, as we are involved in
various kinds of mission at different times and places, there is a need to
formulate specific goals and plans. We call on the provinces and regions
to develop or update mission statements and action plans. These should be
made a point of dialogue in the regular interaction within the zones and
between the generalate and the provinces and regions, especially in making
appointments of confreres and in general visitations.
(91)Parish Ministry. Our latest statistics show that a large
number of SVDs are involved in parish ministry. We recognize and
appreciate their work and encourage our provinces and regions to make
specific efforts to clarify and enhance the missionary profile of the
parishes where we work. This would include promoting our fourfold
prophetic dialogue and characteristic dimensions, and fostering the
process of inculturation. We encourage teamwork and collaborative ministry
within the SVD. Where possible, the development of pastoral teams in which
the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit and the laity would also play a
vital role is encouraged.
(92)Pastoral boards within provinces and regions can help foster
coordinated planning among SVDs in parishes, and provide a venue for
regular reflection and evaluation. Where helpful, we recommend that these
boards be established.
(93)To foster a harmonious and professional relationship with the local
ordinary, we enjoin our provinces and regions to continue to work out
contracts with local bishops regarding SVD service in parishes. Such
contracts should indicate the specifically missionary contribution we hope
to give through our work.
(94)Ministry among Indigenous Peoples. We continue our
missionary presence among indigenous peoples. Through prophetic dialogue
and the process of inculturation, we unite with them in their struggle for
their land, culture, language, and identity. We continue to look for ways
to help them bring about their overall development. We commit ourselves to
learning their languages and culture as we work for the growth of
(95)The Laity. We recognize that the increasingly prominent
and active role of the laity in the Church is a positive development. We
feel the need to be honest and humble in reflecting on our own
relationship with the laity and the quality of our collaboration with all
men and women of goodwill. Whenever possible, in the institutions in our
provinces and regions, lay persons should be invited to assume leadership
positions that do not need to be limited to SVD members. We gladly share
our spirituality with those with whom we work, especially with those who
associate themselves more closely with our mission.
(96)Culture of Life. The tragic irony of the modern world is
that as science and technology find different ways to improve life, they
are also used to promote death. Against this growing culture of death, we
join all men and women of goodwill and pledge to work to promote a culture
of life. We oppose all threats to human life including unjust economic
structures, genocide, capital punishment and torture, and we strongly
support efforts to protect lives where they are most at risk.
(97)Family Ministry and Mission Animation. Constitution 109.1
enjoins us to devote much care to the education and formation of truly
Christian families so that they may be open to the needs of the church and
the world. Especially in these times when family values are being
threatened and many families are breaking up, we stress the importance of
family ministry. By this we mean not only that we minister to families and
their needs, but that the family members themselves are missionaries, a
“domestic church” (Apostolicam Actuositatem 11; LG 11). Indeed, we
can say that in some sense, like the Universal Church, the family is
“missionary by its very nature” (AG 2). In this way, it is a powerful
witness to the Good News and becomes our partner in mission animation. We
therefore encourage all confreres to consider how to make the family a
partner in mission animation.
3. Renewing Our Internal Resources
(98)Formation. We are grateful to God for sending us many vocations
worldwide. In response to this blessing, we must invest in our personnel
by offering excellent programs of initial and ongoing formation that are
consistent with our specific call to missionary service.
(99)We recommend that all provinces and regions review their programs for
language learning and their orientation programs for new and returning
missionaries. Through these programs, the former are able to truly insert
themselves into the actual situation of those among whom they work (c.
103), and the latter can re-enter more easily into their own culture.
(100)Spirituality. At the heart of our missionary work is our
spirituality. We are reminded that “Missionary activity demands a specific
spirituality,” and that “the renewed impulse to mission ad gentes demands
holy missionaries” (RM 87, 90). We describe our call to share in God’s
mission as a call to a fourfold prophetic dialogue, and this requires of
us a profound openness to God. So we follow Jesus’ example and cultivate
this through silence, meditation, and prayer.
(101)We recommend that, in collaboration with our two sister congregations,
our Society continue to foster the growth of the Arnold Janssen
Spirituality Centre, and that we encourage it to further develop and
articulate our spiritual heritage. We also recommend that provincial and
regional superiors and their councils actively support and promote the
development and activities of the provincial spiritual animation teams.
(102)Community. Our community, composed of Brothers and
clerics from different nations and cultures, is called to be a living
symbol of the unity and diversity of the Church and of the Reign of God.
Indeed it has often served as a genuine school for dialogue. To maintain
such an atmosphere, we need to constantly renew our commitment to build up
a community that is faith-filled, welcoming, international/intercultural
and fraternal. In this way, we already begin to live out in community our
commitment to the fourfold prophetic dialogue.
(103)Some of our provinces have a larger aging membership, and some older
confreres return from the provinces where they have ministered for much of
their lives to spend the evening of life in their home provinces. Often
confreres are insufficiently prepared for the changes they experience at
this time. This causes difficulties for them and their respective
communities. Confreres should be encouraged to “let go” and to age
gracefully. Provincial and regional superiors should take action to
prepare these confreres for this important moment. Confreres should be
encouraged to decide well in advance where and how they would like to
spend their retirement years, as well as to settle the details of their
living will, durable power of attorney (where possible and necessary), and
funeral. At the same time, provinces should train confreres capable of
accompanying and directing our elderly.
(104)Brothers. Knowing the importance of Brothers in our
society, we recommend that all levels of administration continue their
efforts to foster knowledge about the Brother vocation and promote its
development in the Society. We recommend further that Brothers be
encouraged to choose, and to become professionally competent in,
ministries which are directly part of the fourfold prophetic dialogue and
of the characteristic dimensions of our SVD commitment.
(105)Mission Research. As members of the SVD, we are heirs to
a valuable, multi-disciplinary tradition of mission research. The changing
situation of mission challenges our various research institutes and all
SVD mission researchers to be in very close collaboration, and to focus
their study and teaching on concrete issues that can help improve our
missionary service, and make it responsive to present needs.
(106)We recommend that the generalate, together with the provinces and
regions, assure that funding and personnel are committed to mission
research. They should especially support those projects which promote
cooperation among the different SVD research institutes.
(107)Financial Self-Reliance. As our Society continues to grow
and to undertake new missionary initiatives, the need for greater
financial resources also grows apace. So far, we have been able to meet
the basic needs of our Society because of the sustained generosity of our
benefactors, the financial solidarity among provinces, and the
conscientious administration of our temporal goods by our treasurers. But
we know from painful experience that too great a reliance on foreign funds
can lead to missionary praxis that is out of touch with the real local
situation. Every confrere and community should contribute to financial
self-reliance by living our religious commitment (c. 213), bearing in mind
the principle of accountability. We recommend that provinces and regions
continue to take concrete steps toward financial self-reliance as a goal,
not only in the administration of temporal goods but also in our mission
(108)As we conclude the 15th General Chapter and turn a new page in the
history of our Society, we face the future with confidence. Once again we
place ourselves and our Society entirely under the guidance and direction
of the Spirit, convinced that mission is by its very nature his work and
revelation (c. 105).
(109)Indeed we need to continue to listen to the Spirit so as to know and do
the will of the Triune God. We are convinced that when we enter into
dialogue with others, we surrender ourselves to God. Whether for a minute,
an hour, a day or a lifetime, whenever we give ourselves to others, we
become a gift to them and to God. And God, who dwells in them as he dwells
in us, becomes in turn a gift for us all. So, joyfully, we unite ourselves
with the founding generation and all disciples of Jesus in renewing our
commitment to be hope-filled witnesses to the Good News of God’s Reign.
(110)We know that today’s missionary challenges are enormous and that often
our response is utterly inadequate. At the same time, however, we realize
that mission is fundamentally God’s work. Thus we take heart in confessing
that the coming Reign of God “is not only beyond our efforts, it is even
beyond our vision. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do
it very well” (attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero).
(111)So, as we begin to face the challenges of the new millennium, midway
through this Jubilee Year 2000, we give thanks to Jesus Christ for calling
us to be his disciples. We gladly bear his name as Divine Word
Missionaries and we give thanks that “his life is our life, his mission
our mission” (Prologue to Constitutions).
Nemi, 14 July 2000