CHAPTER V: THE ORGANIZATION OF MISSIONARY ACTIVITY
This number of Ad Gentes draws bishops’ attention to the need to work together with bishops of other dioceses. Rarely can the individual diocesan bishop master all the difficulties in his own diocese without consulting and cooperating with the bishops of the dioceses surrounding his own diocese.
Christus Dominus, the Vatican II Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, no. 36, tells us that this kind of cooperation among bishops has been going on since the beginning of the Church: “From the earliest ages of the Church, bishops in charge of particular churches, inspired by a spirit of fraternal charity and by zeal for the universal mission entrusted to the apostles, have pooled their resources and their aspirations in order to promote both the common good and the good of individual churches.” They instituted, it says, the custom of holding synods, provincial councils and, finally, universal councils like Vatican II itself.
The same Decree says that the newest development in this line is the Episcopal Conference: “Episcopal conferences - many such have already been established in different countries - have produced outstanding examples of a more fruitful apostolate” (Christus Dominus, no. 37). The Council Fathers then encouraged the establishment of Episcopal conferences: “This sacred Synod judges that it would be in the highest degree helpful if in all parts of the world the bishops of each country or region would meet regularly, so that by sharing their wisdom and experience and exchanging views they may jointly formulate a program for the common good of the Church” (ibid.).
No.31 of Ad Gentes, when it recommends to bishops in the missions that “graver questions and more urgent problems should be considered by episcopal conferences in common,” takes for granted that episcopal conferences have been established or will be established there. In fact, I do not know of any country where we Mariannhill Missionaries serve that does not have a national Episcopal Conference.
In addition, no. 31 recommends that projects that require large amounts of resources should be done collectively, such as “seminaries, higher and technical schools, pastoral, catechetical and liturgical centers, and centers devoted to the means of social communication.” Some of the mission countries have set up national major seminaries for the training of priests from all the country’s dioceses. Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea have such a national seminary. I believe South Africa also has one. I do not know about the other countries where we work, i.e. in Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, Kenya, and Colombia. Regarding national or regional higher schools, pastoral, catechetical centers, etc. in our missions, I have no knowledge whether such initiatives exist.
Lastly, the Council Fathers recommended even a wider cooperation where feasible: “Similar cooperation should even be established between different episcopal conferences, wherever it is considered opportune."
Let us pray for our bishops that, in their working together, they have the same “spirit of fraternal charity and zeal for the universal mission entrusted to the apostles” that inspired their early predecessors. Mary, Mother of the Missions, pray for us!