ROME – For one Vatican official, missionaries today face a two-fold challenge – they must find a balance between backing humanitarian causes while not hiding their Christian faith, and they must also push for deeper change at the root causes of poverty and inequality.
In comments to Crux, Jesuit Father Augusto Zampini Davies, who works in the Faith and Development section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development, said the second challenge is more difficult, “because it is the geopolitical and economic situation.”
“If we really want to be Christians in that sense, in integral human development, we need to challenge the status quo,” he said, adding that “we cannot accept, we cannot help the poor or even work with them without tackling the causes of poverty.”
Poverty is rooted in economics, as is environmental degradation, he said, noting that the irony of the situation is that it is the poor themselves who “are being hit the most.”
“This is an irony and injustice which is outrageous,” Zampini said. “So when you start to grab and look at the roots of social and ecological problems, you need to challenge some ideas that are, I would say, the overarching ideas of the present, politically and economically speaking.”
Zampini was one of the speakers at a Nov. 21 panel discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the Movement and Action of Italian Jesuits for Development (MAGIS) organization, a popular missionary body in Italy that attracts swaths of young people.
Organized by the Missiology faculty of the Pontifical Gregorian University, the panel was titled, “What is the future of solidarity?” and also featured the Prefect of the Vatican’s communications department, Paolo Ruffini, and missionaries who shared their own experiences.
In his speech, Ruffini pointed to the challenges of communicating the Church’s missionary activity today, but said “every age has their hardships,” and voiced his belief that millennials actually have it easier than past generations, because they are able to connect to the world through digital media.
Building a better future, as Pope Francis has often urged Christians to do, is not something “to pretend” to do, but is something “to build” together with the rest of humanity. He said much of the world has become “closed in on ourselves,” becoming indifferent to the suffering of others.
However, Ruffini, who went through the Beatitudes, suggested a new one be added: “Blessed are the pains of the heart,” those who suffer internally, and those who share in their pain.
At a time when much of humanity has forgotten how to communicate with each other, it is important to speak the truth, he said, adding that missionaries are needed not only to meet the temporal needs of those suffering poverty and inequality, but “to do things others can’t see, to share things others don’t say.”
“We cannot only remember missionaries when they are kidnapped or killed,” he said.
In comments at the event, Jesuit Father Renato Colizzi, president of MAGIS, likewise stressed being able to enter into the pain of others, especially those who are victims of war, corruption and injustice.
Despite what many might experience as a fear of suffering, “the pain of others does not diminish me,” Colizzi said, adding that “neither does my pain, when lived for others, diminish me. If I allow myself to enter it, the pain of others enlarges me,” and opens a person to solidarity.
In his interview with Crux, Zampini said part of the first challenge missionaries face is to be open about their faith, “proposing this good news to be accepted and not imposing a doctrinal thing.”
Missionary activity should not be reserved only to Catholics or to those who might convert thanks to the help they receive, but the compassion and commitment of the Church are meant for everyone, regardless of their beliefs, he said, adding that “you cannot go and talk about God with people who are starving. You first have to feed them.”
Pointing to the Amazon, which will be the focus of next year’s Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian region, he said geopolitical concerns are especially potent for the people who live there.
Most at risk in the region are those who live near the river, particularly indigenous populations, who are becoming susceptible to new diseases spreading through the water due to pollution from the waste of international companies.
“We need to challenge that if we want promote the true development of the people in the Amazon. We need to challenge, saying this is unacceptable and we need to clean it because we polluted it. Why did we pollute it? Because we are developing industries to sustain the lifestyle of the rich countries, and that is effecting the very, very poor,” he said.
Yet being outspoken on issues like this can also put missionaries at risk, Zampini said, because when they challenge the system, they are challenging the government, large corporations, and left and right-wing factions who have their hands in the jar.
“If you are too vociferous, especially in the Amazon…you could easily be a martyr because you are complaining against the whole system,” he said, explaining that a key role missionaries can play is not to “give a voice to the voiceless,” because the people have their own voices, but they can accompany and help to protect the local populations.
One of the more striking characteristics about Christian missionaries, he said, is their commitment to the people they serve, often staying through difficult circumstances that cause others to leave.
Missionaries, he said, are the ones who “work with the people, they live with them, they eat with them, they fight with them, they mourn with them, they celebrate with them.” And it is this ability to live as part of the community, rather than seeing the locals as “the other,” that allows solidarity to happen.
“Solidarity is not to have pity on someone,” he said, but rather, “solidarity is to live together and together design a new way of living.”