What does a missionary do?
What a missionary does has changed since the Second Vatican Council met in the 1960s. Before then, it consisted of sending priests, brothers, and sisters to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the central and south Pacific. They established the local churches and converted the indigenous people so they could be saved.
However, since then, we have come to see the entire Church, not just a select few, as being called to mission. We now think of mission more in terms of a specific ministry than a geographical region. Instead of seeking to convert, we now strive to gather all people into the Kingdom of God. We do this by engaging in a dialogue characterized by solidarity, respect and love in four different areas.
First, we reach out to those who are searching in faith and those who have no faith community. These include those who may be alienated from the Church. We welcome them to our social service and pastoral programs without discrimination. Their experience of welcome and hospitality often prompt questions about our own beliefs and teachings. These often lead to continued inquiry and dialogue.
Second, we reach out to those who are poor and marginalized. These include those who are materially poor and those who are oppressed for other reasons including gender, race, culture, language, age, and politics. We often begin by providing them with the basic necessities of life in order to meet their physical needs. These include food, clothing, financial support, and sometimes even shelter. These initial contacts often lead to deeper conversations about their experience of discrimination and exclusion, and how we can help reintegrate them into the community.
Third, we reach out to people of different cultures to learn from them and share in their diversity of gifts. We respect and promote all that is good in the local cultures where we serve. This can range from something as simple as enjoying the local foods, adopting local clothing customs, and participating in local cultural festivals to something deeper such as learning the language and history. These are just a few examples of the myriad ways in which we adapt to local cultures in order to show our love and solidarity with those whom we serve.
Fourth, we engage in dialogue with other Christian Churches, followers of other religious traditions, and people committed to diverse ideologies. We provide opportunities to gather to discuss questions of faith in our different traditions without seeking to convert. We may lead ecumenical prayer services together and sometimes even share the same worship space.
The Society of the Divine Word is the largest Roman Catholic order in the world that focuses on missionary work.
We were founded in 1885 by St. Arnold Janssen. Today we have more than 6,000 missionaries serving in more than 80 countries. In our Chicago Province, we have more than 240 serving in more than 56 ministry sites in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. In these geographical locations, we serve in parishes, grade schools, colleges, seminaries, hospitals, retreat centers, social justice teams, and vulnerable communities. Our motto is simple: “His Mission Is Our Mission.”
To learn more about why we do what we do, and how you can partner with us, click here.