This panel from the Martyrs’ door at the Abbey of St Maurice in Switzerland includes some of the Martyrs of Algeria. Notice the name Mohamed Bouchikhi. He was, of course, a Muslim, and was employed by Bishop Pierre Claverie as his driver. They were murdered together, Christian and Muslim blood intermingled.
We are reflecting on the call for each and every Christian to be a missionary. The late Bishop of Wa, Ghana, Cardinal Bawoobr focuses on the Lord’s Mission Statement given in the synagogue in Nazareth: (Lk 4:18-27)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And he said, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
As a missionary himself, Bawoobr finds it significant that at the very beginning of his ministry Jesus refers to two prophetic encounters with the Gentile world. We too are sent to feed and care for, to cleanse, those who are not immediately people like us. Elisha continued the work of Elijah, having been called by him and served him; Elisha received a double portion of Elijah’s Spirit. (1 Kgs 19,19-21; 2 Kgs 5,2-9-10.15). Not just a prophet, the missionary is a Disciple, or as Cardinal Lavigerie, founder of the White Fathers put it: “My dear children, you are apostles, and nothing but apostles. All your other interests must derive from that fundamental fact.”
Not only the White Fathers but every Christian is called to be an Apostle, and that calling forms us. If Paul could carry on as a tentmaker, we can continue with mundane work, paying our way in this world, but still Apostles to those we meet at work or the checkout. Bawoobr may have been talking of Africa when he said that sometimes ‘we get so caught up with a particular culture at a certain point in its evolution that we stay there and are not even aware of the fact that it is dynamic and evolving or that some elements need evangelisation.’ A challenge for the Church wherever she finds herself.