James H. KROEGER, ed. The Gift of Mission: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. The Maryknoll Centennial Symposium. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013. pp. 268. $48.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-012-9. Reviewed by Robert E. WRIGHT, Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, TX 78216.
This volume gives the presentations made at the three-day symposium on the Church’s mission ad gentes (to the nations) cosponsored by the Maryknoll Society, founded specifically for that purpose, and the Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago upon the occasion of the Maryknollers’ centennial anniversary in 2011. Correspondingly, half of the contributions are by Maryknollers and another quarter by persons from the Chicago area, particularly CTU. The 31 contributions, most from 5 to 9 pages or even less, are divided among five subtitled sections that have somewhat of a coherence to each, but not entirely. Since the introduction provides no guide to the contributions, I recommend that the reader begin with the synthesis provided by the editor in his closing remarks on pages 219-222. There he notes the plenary talks, the responses in plenary to those talks, and the breakout sessions (the great majority). Designed more as an occasion for shared reflections and celebration than a scholarly academic enterprise, there was clearly an effort to include as many topics as possible. The great majority of the presentations are intentionally on the present and future of mission, not on Maryknoll’s past.
With so many contributions, it is impossible to note them all in this review. Keynoting the first essays, devoted more strictly to the Maryknoll family itself, Stephen Judd reflected on their charism of universal solidarity with “the other,” strengthened in contemplation and borne out in prophetic action especially in “frontier” contexts. A Maryknoll Sister, Brother, and lay missioner each provided brief responses, noting among other things the rapidly increasing internationality of the Maryknollers and the implications of this development. In the volume’s final essay, four Maryknoll priests identified the foundational elements for a reduced number of Maryknollers to move into the future.
In a major essay Robert Schreiter of CTU discussed the past and the future of the Church’s mission ad gentes by placing this within the changing context of the three waves of Western globalization since the 1500s. He noted the recent achievement of a more universalized understanding of the Church as missionary and the consequent more blurred identity of foreign-mission societies, as the distinction between “mission territories” and missionary-sending nations becomes less clear. He then described the impacts of Western globalization since the 1970s, with the dramatic advance in travel and communication technology and the resultant “hybridization” of cultures. He concluded by noting and raising questions in regard to four conceptual models for the mission ad gentes in this new context: mission outward from ourselves (self-emptying), mission to “others” or “other things” even in our midst, mission in previously little-touched social spaces, and mission to the wounds in civilization. In her response to Schreiter, Antoinette Gutzler called for the model of mission “among the nations,” as both partnership and dialogue. Offering a North American Protestant perspective, Dana Robert noted the shift away from traditional Euroamerican denominational structures by conversion-minded evangelicals worldwide: “the mission force is streaming through megachurch and parachurch channels and is heavily mobilizing Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans,” many of whom prioritize work among Muslims. But she also pointed out the need to provide the “full-blown concept of mission as boundary crossing” to the many ordinary North American laity, especially youth, who already desire to be such kind of people; a specific example was hospitality to migrants.
Among the brief essays dealing with geographical mission regions, more informative (and accurate in contrast to the one on Latin America, too simplistic and Andean focused) are those on the realities of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and the work of the Catholic Church and Maryknoll in those continents. A longer essay by Peter Phan provides very helpful summaries of the history of Christianity in the four East Asian countries now under communist-socialist regimes and the challenges for Christianity in those nations today. Various dimensions of mission are discussed in small essays on proclamation and dialogue, peacemaking, care of creation, the globalized economy, migration, and interculturality. Barbara Reid provided a very intriguing summary on women and mission in the New Testament. Michael Kirwen offered what he claims is the foundational structure of any culture’s knowledge, developed by the Maryknoll Institute of African Studies.
The contributions on the mission of the U.S. Church are of varied substance. Addressing this question only in the final part of his presentation, Cardinal Francis George stated that U.S. Catholics have “Protestant sensibilities,” wanting accountability, transparency, and choice in church governance. He pointed out the contrast that can often exist between the Catholicism of recent immigrants, now so numerous, and that of long-time U.S. Catholics. On the global level, he ventured that the U.S. Church should try to help our country to think and act in a less hegemonic way – a point stressed more strongly by Carmen Nanko-Fernández in her comments at the end of the symposium. For those unfamiliar with the work of the Catholic Extension Society or of a typical U.S. diocesan mission office, those short entries are informative.