Sea-Change in Mission, Unity and Dialogue


by Harry Winter, OMI

Webster defines a sea-change as “a marked change, transformation.”  There has certainly been a transformation of the three activities in our title.  When Pope Francis asked the Catholic Church to observe October, 2019, as an “Extraordinary Missionary Month, he highlighted our need to see if Oblates of Mary are aware of the transformation. First let’s look at the change in the complex reality of  missionary activity, evangelization, and proclamation during the last twenty-five years.

The US Catholic Mission Association(USCMA) has described it as change from the Third Age of Mission, when priests, brother and nuns went outside their home countries to spread the Gospel, to the Fourth Age of Mission, when lay missionaries are sent for short term Mission Activity. With the explosion of the number of Oblate Associates, most of whom are laity, we can see this happening here in the USA. Our Oblate Associates concentrate their energy on the poor and neglected, serving as valuable evangelizers.

Fr. David N. Power, OMI

Fr. David N. Power, OMI

In 2014, Pope Francis authorized the International Theological Commission to publish its document on the infallibility of the laity, “The Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church” available on the MUD website, Family-Laity page ( Many  Oblates have found the late David Power, OMI’s book  Gifts That Differ:  Lay Ministries Established and Unestablished, to be a valuable resource as we serve our lay evangelizers (see, July 27, 2016, “David Power’s Relevance”).

As Pope Francis continues to declericalize the Catholic Church, are Oblates ready to promote the laity as the prime evangelizers and missionaries?

When Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke at Georgetown University, “Vatican II:  Remembering the Future,” May 21-24,2015, he famously said “Catholic and Ecumenical are not opposites but the two sides of the same coin.” So it should not be surprising that the second of our triad, Christian Unity has also undergone a sea-change.  Before Vatican II, we expected all Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Churches to return to the Roman Catholic Church.  They would give up all their errors and be united with the Mother Church.

Then at Vatican II, we admitted that we might be wrong in some of our attitudes towards non-Catholic Christian Churches.  We further began to see that each Christian Church has something positive the others, including the Roman Catholic Church, does not have.

With Pope Francis’ announcement that he will travel to the headquarters of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland, on June 21, 2018, to help this organization of Protestants and Eastern Orthodox celebrate its 70th anniversary, we glimpse the continuing importance of Ecumenism. If we are to reassemble the disfigured face of Christ, what is missing from the Roman Catholic piece?  What do we need to find in the pieces from the Evangelical and main-line Protestant Churches, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches?

The third of the triad, Dialogue, was mentioned by our 2016 General Chapter especially regarding Islam.  Before Vatican II, Catholics considered Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism to be harmful and evil religions.

Most Rev. Marcello Zago, OMI

Most Rev. Marcello Zago, OMI

Many Oblates remember how Archbishop Marcello Zago, OMI,  helped Pope John Paul II plan and conduct the first Assisi Conference, Oct. 27, 1986, which brought together not only Christian Churches, but many non-Christian Religions. For the first time ever, non-Christian religious leaders prayed side by side with Christian leaders. This conference was so successful that it gave the Roman Catholic Church severe indigestion.  Pope Benedict especially found it necessary to attempt a different slant when he conducted the 25th anniversary observance at Assisi on Oct. 27, 2011 (see especially Austen Ivereigh, “What Assisi Has Lost,” Nov. 14, 2011, Dialogue page, MUD website).

Non-Christian Religions have accomplished some good; we need them if there is to be justice and peace among nations.  But how does Christ enter into that good?  This is probably the most debated question among Christians today, a question that has only recently arisen.

Pope Francis has asked Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, to prepare the Church for the October, 2019 celebration on Mission. Filoni has already sent a letter to the Superiors General of Institutes of Consecrated Life, outlining four goals for the month (all of Francis’s initial statement, and Filoni’s letter, available on the USCMA website).

Oblates may expect to hear much more in the coming months.  May we pray and work that we will adapt to the transformation of Mission, Unity and Dialogue as we prepare for October, 2019.