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The Missionary Family

 

The Missionary Family
 
A Pastoral Letter to all Catholics from the Bishops of Zambia on the 1999 Theme for the Implementation of the African Synod
 
25 March 1999
 
 

Keeping the main of theme of Church-as-the-family-of- God the Bishops wrote this Pastoral Letter for on the 1999 sub-theme of the ‘Missionary Family’.

The Missionary family is one that works together to make the name of God well known. It is a family that is sent to witness to the values of the Kingdom of God. The values of Peace and Unity.

In the context of our broken society where families are facing immense suffering, the Church as a missionary family is called upon to be responsive to the suffering of the people, and to care for those who cannot look after themselves.

Once healed, our human families can again be the privileged place of witnessing to the Gospel, after all it is the first cell of the Christian community.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

    We, your Bishops, send you greetings of peace. During this year 1999 we want to focus our prayers, intentions and commitment on the Church as a Missionary Family. To go out and spread the Good News of Jesus is the main task of the Family of God. It was also the main concern of the bishops at the African Synod : to proclaim a message that is relevant and credible for our people today, as we move towards the Year 2000.
    "Father, I have made your name known..." (John 17, 6)
  1. Pope John Paul II has dedicated the year 1999 to God the Father, inviting all of God’s Family to journey together towards the Father, in the footsteps of his beloved Son. Jesus Christ was the first and the greatest evangeliser. His teaching was really good news. Many people were eager to listen to him, because he talked about God, not as a demanding chief, but as his Abba, his dear Father. "I came from the Father, and I am going to the Father", Jesus told his disciples, "and I am going to prepare a place for you, so that you may be with me" (John 14,2).
  2. Jesus came to redirect us, to open up a way to the Father of all, to reveal to us who God really is. His enthusiasm, his joy and his childlike trust were so visible that he inspired hope and confidence in simple people in spite of all their misery and sufferings.
  3. Jesus was sent by the Father to share God’s life with us and to transform this world into something better. He often expressed his vision with the words "repent, the Kingdom of God is close at hand."
  4. But Jesus did not only speak about the Kingdom, he showed by his actions where the Kingdom of God was already happening: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor." (Luke 7:22). This is what Jesus came to bring us: God’s own life. For this he lived, suffered and finally died.

    "As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world".... (John 17,18)
  5. As disciples of Jesus we too are sent to make all people share in the life of God. Once we have received God’s abundant life through the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, we are sent on a mission, we are given a task. After having come "home" in the warmth of God’s family, we are sent out into the world in order to announce the good news of God’s love and life to all our brothers and sisters.
  6. As Catholics we tend to take the gifts of the Lord and our Church membership for granted. Often our Christian communities and our associations are too inward looking, busy with themselves and their own growth. We seem to have lost the original Pentecostal fire and missionary enthusiasm.
  7. This year it will be ten years since the visit to Zambia of our Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father encouraged us to be missionaries by quoting the word of Jesus to his disciples: "You shall be my witnesses". And we, your Bishops, adopted these challenging words of Jesus in the Pastoral Letter marking 100 Years of Catholic Faith in Zambia: the Gospel must above all be proclaimed by the witness of a true Christian life.
    1. Can we say that we have really encountered Jesus in our lives as the 'pearl of great price', and that we are eager to share this joy with others?
    2. Are we joyful and firm witnesses of his Good News in our surroundings, places of work, families, in our public functions?
    "How will they believe in one they have never heard of? And how will they hear without someone preaching." And how will they preach unless they are sent? (Rom. 10:14-15)
  8. We are all sent to be true witnesses of the Gospel message of faith, hope and love, there where we are. As your Pastors, we would like to mention some areas needing attention during this year of the Missionary family.

    Peace and Unity

  9. The Kingdom of God is found when people live together as children of the same family. Peace and unity is what our Country needs most these days. However, there seems to be divisions and latent tribalism among us. It often starts in small ways there where we are, in our families, in our Christian communities and associations. If left unresolved, these divisions could lead to violence and even to war.
  10. We all remember the challenging words of John Paul II during the African Synod: "Look inside yourselves. Look to the riches of your own culture and traditions. Let the Good News take root in your life" Our Country Zambia is enriched with a diversity of cultures and traditions, and we are called to respect all that is good and of value in each of these cultures. But inculturation is never an imposition of one way of living; it is a long, often difficult process that involves patient dialogue and great respect for one another. As Catholics, we are members of a Church, which is universal, open to all cultures and traditions, eager to build together the universal Family of God.
  11. Jesus came to reveal to us a God Creator and Parent of all. All human beings are created in God’s divine image, all equal in dignity, all equally loved. "God does not discriminate and has no favourites" (Acts 10,34). We are all destined to be God's children, and this is what challenges us to fight all divisions according to class, race, tribe, gender or other interest groups.

    Dialogue and reconciliation are the way of life of the Family of God. During this year, we invite you to take concrete steps to heal divisions and promote reconciliation in your families, your Christian communities, and your surroundings.

    Our Christian Families

  12. We are aware that in our present situation of grave economic difficulties, it is not easy to go out and be true witnesses of Jesus. We are asked to bring Good News in the midst of a reality, which is often "bad news" in terms of human suffering. In such difficult times, people tend to be too preoccupied with survival to think about the plight of others. Community solidarity, generosity, concern for the poor, honesty and truth, are easily abandoned due to socio-economic hardships. As Christians we are challenged to rise above the temptations of discouragement and apathy, and continue to abide by the Gospel values of love, justice, and concern for others. We encourage you to remain a caring Family even in times of hardships.
  13. Our Christian families are a privileged place of witnessing to the Gospel and the first cell of the Christian community. But because of the harsh conditions of life, most of our families experience serious difficulties. Less and less families can meet the traditional demands of the extended family. As we already mentioned in our 1994 Pastoral Letter to Families: "the bonds that bind together members of the extended family are stretched to breaking point due to poverty, sickness, death and burials, and the increase of orphans. This precious but sensitive area needs to be addressed in an ongoing way at all levels in the Church, beginning with the Small Christian Communities."
  14. The evangelisation of our families needs to be seen as a priority. How relevant are our pastoral programmes to the real problems which families are facing today?

    So as to promote Christian family values, and evaluate the impact of our pastoral programs on families and family life, we again encourage the creation of a Commission on the Family at National level, with corresponding structures in our Dioceses. "Such a Commission would assist in educating families in evangelisation, in promoting the rights and welfare of families, in formulating policy, in co-ordinating the many initiatives of support groups for the family, and generally to help families to feel solidarity in their life and mission" (Pastoral Letter of 1994).

    Suffering, Sickness and Death

  15. Because of growing poverty, the AIDS pandemic and other diseases, there is and will be a great deal of sickness and death among us. The Catholic Church has a long history of care and compassion, and Zambia is not an exception. We are grateful to all those of you who give of their means, their time and efforts to care for the most unfortunate of our society. We particularly commend the Home-Based Care programmes, involving members of the Small Christian communities, for their dedication to the sick and dying.
  16. However, if we want to be credible witnesses in today's situations, we are challenged to become more mature in the field of suffering. We are inclined to start "pointing fingers" and blame others for our plight. Finger pointing instead of searching our own hearts leads us often to suspect others of being the cause of evil. When someone is at the point of death after a painful illness, we want to know the cause of evil, and we end up by going to a witch doctor who is quick to accuse a person we do not particularly like, or are jealous of. The result is more hatred, more suspicion, more misery, and even more death. Will the fact of us knowing where these evils come from, or who have caused them, cure us?
  17. Let us be more open about the AIDS virus, instead of hiding it under the words "he/she died after a short or long illness". The cause of the disease might be a sin, but the disease itself is not a sin.

    Have we changed our sexual behaviour? Often the nightmare of AIDS is brought into our houses by the irresponsible conduct of one of the parents. Behavioural change is a "must" in the field of sexuality both for young and old, for men and women. It will set us free for a fuller, more abundant life. Let us stop blaming others for all that goes wrong, and take up the path of authentic conversion: "I will get up and return to my Father… ".

    Transmitting our Faith

  18. According to our Zambian tradition, the extended family is responsible for the formation of its young members, and parents are the first messengers of the faith for their children. But often the younger generations have little knowledge of the faith, as many parents do not see anymore the transmission of faith as their responsibility.
  19. As a caring family we are above all called to care for the faith we have received; the seed of faith that has been planted in our hearts needs to be watered, weeded, grow roots, before it can bear the fruits God expects of us. The African Synod strongly reminds us of the need to "train, motivate and empower" all the agents of evangelisation (EA 53). It is our wish that this year a serious effort be made to better prepare all the catechisers, full-time catechists as well as voluntary catechisers, who are at the forefront in transmitting the faith to the younger generations.

    The Word of God

  20. The Small Christian Communities are a privileged place of evangelisation, as they listen to God’s Word and reflect on their different human problems in the light of the Gospel. We would like to see these Small Christian communities become the place where the Church is truly experienced as a Missionary Family.
  21. For this to happen, the Word of God must be at the heart of our life together, for our growth in faith and for our mission. During this year let us therefore make a special effort to put back the Bible in the hands of our Catholic Christians, to make it more easily available in the families and in the Christian communities to pray and study.

    We encourage all pastoral agents to propose Bible courses and seminars in the parishes, so as to make the Word of God "known, loved, pondered and preserved in the hearts of the faithful" (EA 58).

    Missionary Vocations

  22. Jesus Christ told his disciples to bear witness to him "to the ends of the earth". For many years we in Zambia have been receiving missionaries to come and proclaim the Good News to us. The time has now come to become "missionaries to ourselves" and to take our part in the Church's mission to the whole world.

    Let us encourage Zambian missionary vocations; young men and women ready to be sent to proclaim the Gospel to less well-off dioceses within Zambia and beyond its borders. Let us pray for holy missionaries ready to witness to Jesus Christ and bring the fire of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We your Bishops call and empower Christian families to become missionaries - "go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you" (Mk.5,19).
  23. Finally, let us remember, "The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of the Church’s mission. It is the Holy Spirit who leads the Church on her missionary paths". (R.M. 21). Often we forget the strength and importance of prayer. There are communities among us, called contemplative, who spend most of their days in prayer. They pray for all of us, so that our missionary work may be fruitful. Together with them let us pray and trust that the Spirit will be with us, empowering and inspiring us during this Year of the Missionary Family, as we journey towards the New Millennium.

Lusaka, 25th March 1999
The Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord

The Catholic Bishops of Zambia

  Bishop T-G Mpundu,   Bishop of Mpika, Chairman ZEC   Archbishop M. Mazombwe,   Archbishop of Lusaka   Archbishop J. Spaita,   Archbishop of Kasama   Cardinal A. Kozlowiecki, SJ,   Archbishop Emeritus, Lusaka   Archbishop A. Mung'andu,   Archbishop Emeritus, Lusaka   Bishop D. De Jong,   Bishop of Ndola   Bishop A. Chisha,   Bishop of Mansa   Bishop R. Mpezele,   Bishop of Livingstone   BishopN. O'Regan, S.M.A.,   Bishop of Solwezi   Bishop P. Duffy, OMI   Bishop of Mongu   Mgr. G. Lungu   Apostolic Administrator, Chipata