Sociologists claim that one of the major problems in much of the world is that nowadays people only listen to, read of and converse with people who think the same as them.
Power and prosperity can stifle the Spirit, blind us to others and prevent us from understanding the weak. Witness the rich man who never understood or appreciated Lazarus at his door. (Lk 16:19-31)
In 2013, the World Council of Churches met in Pusan, Korea, and published "Together Towards Life." One of its most challenging chapters is "Spirit of Liberation: Mission from the Margins." Jesus' mission was to liberate the oppressed, to open the eyes of the blind and to announce the Kingdom of God by opting to spend His time with the marginalized people of His day. He did this not out of charity but to highlight the injustices that were marginalizing His people and the people at the center of Jewish religion and society clearly understood the challenge. Jesus mixes with the marginalized to confront and transform everything that denies life. Their situation points to the sinfulness of the world.
"Together Towards Life" goes on to make the radical and thought provoking statement, "The aim of mission is not simply to move people from the margins to centers of power but to confront those who remain in the center by keeping people on the margins. Instead, churches are called to transform power structures." #40 Earlier it warns that the practice of mission has changed. Instead of mission "being done by the powerful to the powerless, by the rich to the poor, or by the privileged to the marginalized," the missionaries are now coming from the margins to the powerful.
Like Pope Francis, they insist that we have much to learn from the poor and marginalized. "People on the margins have agency, and can often see what, from the center, is out of view. People on the margins, living in vulnerable positions, often know what exclusionary forces are threatening their survival and can best discern the urgency of their struggles; people in positions of privilege have much to learn from the daily struggles of people living in marginal conditions." #38 "Through struggles in and for life, marginalized people are reservoirs of the active hope, collective resistance, and perseverance that are needed to remain faithful to the promised reign of God." #39
Mission is not just a question of helping the poor and disadvantaged; it must involve challenging power and privilege and creating just and inclusive communities. The center has shifted to the margins.
Columban Fr. Noel Connolly is a member of the Columban Mission Institute in North Sydney and a lecturer in Missiology at both the Broken Bay Institute and the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
Copyright © 2019 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, D.C.