Sisters of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception witness to Christ’s gospel to the poor in rural Andhra Pradesh. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Sr. Helen, a Sister of the Destitute, runs a school for tribal and Hindu children in an Indian village. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
In 1926 Pope Pius XI established the Catholic Near East Welfare Association to help keep Christianity alive in the Near East. It would serve people in an area extending from Eastern Europe down through the Levant to India.The Eastern Churches would be its special concern. These ancient and honorable faith traditions represent the diversity of Christianity. This linkwith the early missionary Church couldnot be neglected.
The last 60 years have seen profound changes in the Near East. Since the Second World War, Christians in the East have endured enormous sacrifices which recall those of the early Church. Other peoples in these regions have also suffered from the economic and political conflicts. In fact, people in these regions have endured conflicts for thousands of years. Yet it has only been in this century that CNEWA has been there to respond with constructive action, which is the only basis for real hope and is the truest expression of compassion.
CNEWA has responded to changing circumstances by expanding its mission to serve all people in need, regardless of their need. The development suggests how the Churchs sense of mission has grown. The Second Vatican Councils Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church speaks of the Churchs continuing mission in the twentieth century: In the course of human history it unfolds the mission of Christ Himself, who was sent to preach the gospel to the poor. Hence, prompted by the Holy Spirit, the Church must walk the same road which Christ walked: a road of poverty and obedience, of service and self-sacrifice to the death, from which death He came forth a victor by His resurrection. For thus did all the apostles walk in hope.
Mission is more than chalking up converts and supporting them once they become ours. It demands giving witness to who we are as followers of Jesus.Through this way of living we distinguish ourselves from others and become models for others. At the same time we respect other people and their distinct culture.
While we do not refrain from proclaiming the gospel message, it is more than spoken words. Actions speak more clearly than words and translate their meaning for those who wonder who we really are.
CNEWA does mission work. As the Holy Fathers mission aid to the Eastern churches, we support native Christians in the Near East. As a Christian witness in the Near East, we serve all people in need, regardless of their creed.
CNEWA also is a means by which North American Christians participate in the missionary activity of the Church. Their prayers, sacrifices, and financial generosity exemplify the missionary spirit, which fosters a unity of the human family while respecting cultural differences.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States wrote of the importance of mission in their 1986 pastoral statement To the Ends of the Earth. They call us to answer an often overlooked challenge of our faith to join the missionary efforts even if we remain at home in North America. They call us beyond the limitations of geography and economics which separate us from others. As Christians, we recognize the whole earth as our home and all people as members of one family.
The pastoral letter challenges us to escape the trappings of our material privileges, which set us apart from most people. The bishops wrote that neither the church as a whole nor the church in the United States can remain indifferent to the sufferings, inequities and oppression that afflict so much of the worlds population. These evils openly contradict Christs gospel.
By putting on the new person of Christ, we will see and respond as He did. He not only talked about freeing the poor and oppressed but, undeterred by critics, actually welcomed the poor and sinners to share at his table. Like Jesus, we must be able to accompany others in their suffering and be willing to suffer with them. By journeying with the poor and oppressed, we will come with them to true liberation.
Supported by a mission spirituality of prayer, fasting, and sacrifice, the Church is being continually renewed insofar as we hear the gospel, allow ourselves to be formed by it, and respond to its challenges in all our actions.
The Church in the Near East is sustained by the mission spirituality of its people. Though their ancestors were the ones who first heard Jesus good news from the earliest missionaries, the missionary spirit continues to inspire them. Today, in unity with the entire Church, they find support in the mission aid of the one family of faith.
The living Church in the Near East is the one Body of Christ. The witness given by these native Christians and by Western Christians who support them eloquently expresses the gospel. This unity of faith promotes the unity of all humanity. This mission is our responsibility and our privilege as followers of Christ.
Monsignor Nolan is national secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and president of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.