By Synter Pereira
Panaji, July 23, 2019: For more than 30 years, students of Rachol Seminary in Goa go to a village for a live-in program of at least three days as part of their course on Theology of Missions, accompanied by the professor of the subject.
Initially, they used to go to the so called missionary areas outside Goa. But when Father Aleixo Menezes became the rector in 2013, he said “let us explore first Goa and then we can move outside.”
During the 2018-2019 academic year, the second and third year theology students went to Vaddem village in Sanguem taluka. They were accompanied by Father George Dias, the professor. Local parish priest Pilar Father Glen D’Silva helped them.
The Vaddem villagers reminded the saying “Someday you will find out that there is far more happiness in another’s happiness than in your own” in French novelist Honor de Balzac’s work Pere Goriot. People of this remote Goa village have sacrificed a lot to help others enjoy a good life.
The Vaddem villagers earlier lived in Curdi village that got submerged when the Selaulim dam was built in 1975. The government compensated the families with agricultural land and land for housing purpose. The Curdi people now reside at Vaddem and Valkini.
Vaddem is surrounded by forests and mountains. It has electricity but with voltage problems.
Their another major problem, ironically, is the limited water supply. “We sacrificed our land so that others may get water, and the place from where the water is supplied does not receive the benefits of the sacrifices made,” one of the villagers remarkd.
The village has no proper medical facility as no health centres are around. Unfortunately many people remain untreated of their illness due to the unavailability of doctors and health centers.
Children have to travel a long distance to attend school. The village is far away from the church making it difficult for the people to attend daily Mass and other religious activities.
We found the villagers happy despite facing such difficulties. In fact we found thm very generous. Faith in the divine providence was seen in their day to day life. “We might not have some basic things or facilities but what we have is joy and peace and a sacrificing heart,” an elderly man said with a smile. The unity among these people, their concern for each other and their reaching out to help each other is noteworthy.
The contemporary society is offering new challenges to the Church’s missionary activity. We asked ourselves: “What is our effective response to these challenges? How do we face them?”
Firstly, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples speaks about the “enhancing of the identity of the priest.” John Paul II affirms that in the Mission Territories “the personal witness of the holiness of priests acquires a singular importance and becomes, even more than elsewhere, a mark of credibility and a guarantee of the efficacy of apostolic activity.”
Today, it might be difficult to preach our faith openly. Therefore, preaching through actions rather than words gains prominence. St. Francis of Assisi puts this beautifully when he says, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
Secondly, we need to develop a missionary conscience. This basically means preparing oneself to accept the gift of priestly ordination and devote himself effectively and generously to the preaching of the gospel. It means following the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8: “that you will be my witness…. to the ends of the world.” Missionary conscience would help one to view missionary activity not in a limited and narrow perspective but view it keeping in mind the long term and wider perspective. With this attitude, we work towards the salvation of all, the good of all humanity.
Thirdly, we need to develop a pastoral conscience. This means developing in oneself a sense of belonging to the parish. This implies taking on the identity of being a good shepherd; one who knows to guide and feed his sheep. While carrying out missionary work, the minimalistic attitude, doing just the bare minimum, will not help a priest to exercise his ministry fruitfully and it will not enrich the faithful with spiritual experiences and Christian values. The priest needs to constantly push the boundaries, be creative in his approach and strive towards the maximum.
Fourthly, we have to be a ministers of liturgy and sacraments. A priest is the minister for administering sacraments. Usually the problem that is faced in the missions is that people live far away from the Church, where the liturgical services and sacraments are celebrated when a priest is available.
Hence, it becomes difficult for people to receive and participate in the liturgical services and sacraments regularly. The faithful cannot easily come the church, we have to take the Church to them. Church should not be viewed as a static fixed structure but a mobile, movable body which always goes out to where her children are. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
Fifthly, priority has to be given to the poor. The Church believes in the integral development of men and women. The Church is not a political, economic and a social order, but is religious and therefore while undertaking missionary activity, a priest should work towards taking care of the urgent needs of the people. Being one with them is what counts while being a missionary. Be a guide that understands their needs, their weaknesses and stands by them in times of difficult situations.
Finally, the Church is missionary by nature. Mission can be anywhere. We should not think that missionary work has to be carried out only in remote areas. Missionary work starts right where a priest lives. Every priest is called to be another Christ: to love, serve and to guide others to God. A priest will be effective in his ministry only when he has a missionary approach in all that he does. Therefore, the scope of missions extends to any place. This is what Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) and what Pope John Paul II meant when he spoke about ‘New Evangelisation’ (1983).
This mission experience has taught us many valuable lessons. To remain happy even when something most precious to you is taken away from you, is what these people have taught us. This attitude, even when they don’t get to enjoy the minimum benefits for what they have given up.
They have taught us to be cheerful givers, because God loves us. They have taught us to depend on God for everything. And finally, to sacrifice, because real happiness lies in the happiness of the others.