Whispering the Gospel to the soul of Asia
INITIAL PROCLAMATION OF JESUS in ASIA & Vocation Training Center
Poster Salesian Mission Day 2018
ANS - Rome) - The theme of Salesian Mission Day (GMS) 2018, "Whispering the Gospel in Asia", was presented on the day of the Epiphany. This year the focus falls on the first proclamation of the Gospel on the Asian continent, especially those spoken via the Vocational Training Schools.
The Congregation invites everyone to celebrate the Salesian Mission Day on 11 November, or thereabouts, the departure date of the First Missionary Expedition, but the Provinces may choose to celebrate the day on other dates, according to their own convenience.
As part of the presentation, the GMS poster was released. It sets the new Salesian Missionary Cross at its center, a reminder that the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Salesian Family are called to be missionaries of the young, their hearts shaped according to the Good Shepherd, the source of joy, faith, hope and love.
The radiant golden light descending from above that continues as a stream of water in the background represents the presence of the Holy Spirit who constantly guides and illuminates each missionary in their life of service. That gentle stream indicates, too, the methodology of the First Announcement, one of serene, discreet and respectful patience as it communicates the Good News.
The photomontage of the young people of the Vocational Training Centers represents the field of work in Asian countries, in societies sometimes marked by the contrast between wealth and poverty. In Asia, there are, of course, many young people of different cultural, religious and economic backgrounds which the Salesians, with patience, kindness and gentleness, are called to accompany and instruct in their studies and vocations so they may grow up as honest citizens and good Christians, or children of a different faith, as people who contribute to society experiencing true joy - in this life and in the future.
The poster's visual journey ends with a photo of Don Bosco sitting next to a globe, reminder of the Founder's missionary dreams: he invites his spiritual children to travel and go around the world bringing Good News to the young. Through a fraternal presence and offers that are educational and pastoral, Salesians foster a welcoming and family-like environment, one that nurtures a sense of personal dignity and inclusion in society, while communicating, like "words whispered to one's ear", words of joy, faith, hope and love: the whispered words of the Gospel.
The GMS poster and prayers, and the booklet for missionary animation,is available.
For download: Thomas Menamparampil.docx
Whispering the Gospel to the Soul of Asia
It was in the Asian Synod that I used the phrase “Whispering the Gospel to the Soul of Asia” for the first time. Several Asian bishops came to thank me for the expression during the coffee-break. Later others too joined. I used the phrase on another occasion to conclude an article of mine on the evangelization of Asia. I received words of appreciation precisely for that phrase from persons I never knew: in Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and even from a retired missionary in France who had worked in Asia earlier. People saw in the phrase something deeper than I was able to imagine when I used it for the first time. It was not a much thought out phrase carefully crafted after much reflection. It had come to me spontaneously when I was formulating a written intervention for the Asian Synod. Ever since it has caught the imagination of many, including also a Consolata missionary working in Mongolia, who did a doctorate at Urbaniana University applying the phrase to the Mongolian context.
Generally, what comes to one’s mind when one hears of ‘quiet communication’ in today’s Asian context is a thought of fear and anxiety, in the context of the much reported violence against Christians these days. That was the least important reason I would have had in mind when I used the expression for the first time. It was not in my mind at all. ‘Whispering’ as I used the word in my intervention was not intended to be an expression of fear, timidity, caution, or prudence. It was a sign of closeness, intimacy, trust, relationship, profundity. It also evoked a sense of the sacred. In India mantras are pronounced gently; they are sacred words. Sutras are whispered only to initiates; they are sacred teachings. People listen to these utterings with reverence. The seriousness and solemnity of the context would make you hold your breath. You are enthralled by their sacred meaning and cosmic significance.
But to tell you the truth, all these deeper meanings and connotations were less in mind when I drafted that intervention for the Asian Synod than a missionary’s closeness to his people. All those who dealt successfully with large numbers sought to be close to people: individuals and communities. That gave them great persuasive power. Mahatma Gandhi was close to his people, to individuals and groups. His relationships were always warm and intimate. Mother Teresa had a singular ability of making everyone she met feel that she belonged to him/her. That is why even a whisper from her mattered. President Clinton said that no one in modern times had stung the conscience of the world as she had done. Princess Diana would bend deep like a little girl to listen to Mother’s ‘whispers.’
It is said that Alexander, Napoleon, and Mao were close to their fighting men in their earlier years. Their closeness to the average soldiers and the trust they showed generated the courage their men needed to risk their lives on the frontlines. Don Bosco’s ‘Word in the Ear’ (a word of friendly correction, encouragement, or affirmation) changed hearts, shaped lives, transformed history. Founders of many congregations would withdraw with their close associates to discuss the future of their society in deep faith, confidence and intimacy. They were sacred moments for those concerned. All that happened in later years through the heroic work of their successors had some mystic relationship with what happened in those early gatherings of the pioneers with their founder.
Jesus frequently withdrew from the crowds to instruct his disciples or deepen their understanding of what he had taught to the crowds at an earlier moment. I could compare the conversations of Jesus with Nicodemus and Samaritan woman, and his discussions over meals to the “Whispering of the Gospel” I was referring to. In such intimate sharings serious things can be said, deeper things can be explained, and what really counts can be accepted freely, happily and with lasting consequence. Even the words of Jesus to the Good Thief
, the questioning of Peter about his love, and his post-resurrection conversations with his disciples, could be classified under the same category. But most of all it is in the conversation of Jesus with his disciples in the Upper Chamber that we could call “Whispering of the Gospel to the soul” of the Young Church. Everything speaks of closeness, seriousness, intimacy. There is warmth, there is loving kindness. Here we find Jesus pouring out his heart. Every word is precious, profoundly felt, with diverse levels of meaning, words that summed up what he stood for and the vision he has for his dear ones.
First of all, we may ask ourselves whether we as missionaries are capable of that closeness, intimacy and profundity in any of their conversations, at least a portion of a portion of it. Yes, we are. It was in the playing grounds that Don Bosco used to whisper a word in the ear of a naughty boy. I was feeling guilty at one stage that just when Pope John Paul II was speaking of announcing the Gospel from the Housetop I was speaking of whispering the Gospel. I had not even thought of it until someone pointed it out. At one stage I was feeling diffident. This difference could be misunderstood. However, one approach was never intended to be a denial of the other; in fact, one is intimately related to the other. Jesus’ intimate sharing with his disciples had a close relationship with his preaching to the crowds.
There are times and contexts too in our own cases when we announce the message loud and clear without fear, and there are occasions when we deepen the reflections in intimate circles. Often we probe our way forward in deeper level conversations. A final choice is made for accepting the Christian Proposal as an individual, a family or a small group, in a context of intimacy and personal nearness. May be that is what happens between two young persons who decide to live together as partners for a life time too.
There is another dimension that has meant much to me during may entire missionary life. It is the challenge of culture. Whatever be your personal talent or qualification, unless you come on the wavelength of the culture of a community, you missionary performance will always be limping. Dealing with culture is not merely analysing people’s habits, traditions, and studying their feasts and hand products. It is seeking admission into the inner world of communities, understanding their collective attitudes and orientations, respecting their values, feeling a measure pride in their history, cultural heritage and collective achievements. It is vibrating with the community. This will call for a sympathetic understanding even of their weaknesses, correction for which ultimately comes from the community itself.
This will mean dialoguing with the ‘collective psyche of communities’ in the way great missionaries of the past had done. Such people alone are close to the “Soul” of a community. Whispering is possible and worthwhile only if you are close to the Soul of a community. The missionaries who are able to interpret the genius of a people, the deeper dimensions of their culture, understand their collective genius, and are intimate to the communities... they alone are in a position to ‘whisper the Gospel’ with any measure of success. Many missionaries address the logical mind, not the intimate soul.
It is said that St. Patrick understood the Celtic mind and dealt with the Irish people with amazing success. Something similar was said about St. Boniface in Germany, and he transformed the lives of entire peoples and societies. In India, St. Francis Xavier seems to have had a similar gift. Closer to us, we could say something similar about Fr. Constant Lievens of Chhotanagar (Jharkhand) whose success is unexplainable except for his genius in dealing with communities. Nearer to us still, possibly we could refer to Fr. Vendrame who had shown amazing ways of dealing with the Khasi people. The pedagogy of ‘whispering’ comes alive when people with such abilities pass on an idea to the communities with whom they are dealing. And entire communities are touched.
Asian society is far more communitarian than societies in most other parts of the world, except possibly for those in Africa. Here a missionary will have to deal, not only with individuals and families, but also with the larger units of society, like a tribe, an individual ethnic group, a village, a small neighbourhood, etc. If he has learnt to identify himself with a specific community, of which possibly he has emerged a hero, he will work wonders.
Speaking of Asia again, there will be great differences between different communities: tribal people, people who have been de-tribalized of late, communities that have accepted one of the world religions, those who remain uncommitted, and those that have abandoned their religion. There will be differences between the rural and urban population, smaller isolated ethnic groups and larger societies. However, the need for penetrating the inner world of a society, and understanding its working and the patterns of its emotional rhythms, is extremely important when it comes to sharing one’s faith. The more casually you share it, the more superficial it remains. Unfortunately much of our missionary education, teaching, catechesis has remained at the superficial level. When it becomes intimate and deep, you notice the difference.
The aspect of ‘depth’ is as important as the quality of intimacy. Asians esteem depth no matter what persuasion you belong to. While depth has reference to the content of the discussion, it also has reference to the personality of the communicator, the quality of the relationship, the unction of the style of communicating. It points to the intimacy a communicator has with own his/her real ‘self’ as well. In Indian spirituality, pursuit of the ‘self’ is one of the highest goals. If the communicator is close to his own ‘superficial self’ the content and style of his communication will also reflect that. But if he is often with his ‘deeper self’, the profounder dimension of his/her person, when he communicates a message, he wins attention.
am tempted to believe that the very phrase “Whispering the Gospel to the Soul
of Asia” was the utterance of the collective psyche of Asia. It was not an
artificially constructed strategy of anyone after much study and elaborate
discussion. It sprang up spontaneously as the Asian Church was gathered in Rome
for the most important event in its recent history. It holds the formula for
the future of evan