Missionaries ready to generously impregnate themselves with ‘the odor of the poor’ have become increasingly rare.
Regaining the fundamental spirit of mission in order to reinvent missionary activity today has become more crucial than ever for the Church in Africa.
The most essential aspect of the Church’s evangelizing activity is the announcement of the Good News to the poor.
This leads to “the joy of being sent to the poor, the joy of joining the poor, the marginalized, and the voiceless in their life environments,” as Pope Francis has insisted many times.
In fact, this was the state of mind of the first missionaries to walk on African soil. It was clear to them that practicing love of the poor, the most disadvantaged, the most abandoned is as fundamental to the Church’s evangelizing mission as the service of the sacraments and the Word.
What mattered to them was to be with the poor, to live with the poor, to “smell the odor of the sheep” and to become living and authentic witnesses of Christ’s love.
Unfortunately, we need to recognize that this founding spirit of missionary activity, which essentially consists in “being penetrated with the odor of the poor” by sharing their conditions to witness to the love of Christ, is now disappearing from the African continent.
Missionaries ready to generously impregnate themselves with “the odor of the poor” have become increasingly rare. In their place, we now find VIP missionaries, missionaries for whom working among the poor is an insult to their ego because they are too great, too highly qualified or too important.
Their mission is essentially limited to areas where “milk and honey flow” (Exodus 33:3). In so doing, they restrict their mission to a specific group of people.
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This spirit kills the missionary dynamic of the Church in Africa. It is therefore a spirit that needs to be fought by all means.
It should not be forgotten that at the heart of Christ’s mission are the poor, the most abandoned in all their forms.
Jesus was a great hope for the poor. In Jesus, the poor feel loved by God.
In fact, the Church in general – and the African Church in particular – would lose its meaning and raison d’être if it turned away from the person for whom it exists and without whom it would not be able to exist.
“It is only by beginning with the poor that the Church is able to exist for all,” said the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. “Indeed, it is to the Church’s honor that the poor feel at home there.”