By Frank Pidgeon, C.Ss.R.
During my early years of ministry, I was trained to believe that I was called, even chosen to bring the Word of God and news of his redemption in Christ to all men and women.
When I reached my mission area, my briefcase packed with prefab sermons and instructions, I discovered the Spirit of God was already there.
After working in Australia for just over a year I was transferred to the East. I left an Australia where the leakage from the Church was already under way and settled in the Philippines, the only Christian country of Asia.
Twelve years later, I found myself in Iraq, ministering to the many thousands of Filipino contract workers. And then it was onto to Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong and other parts of Asia I was surrounded by millions of people who knew not the name of Christ.
To work in non-Christian countries and to come into contact with the spirituality of non Christians can be either a disturbing experience, or lead to an appreciation of what wondrous things God might be doing in the hearts of men and women.
Vatican Council II (1962-1965) shed light on the fact that the Church reveals only one instance of the Kingdom of God. In 1988, the Federation of Asian Bishops declared that “God’s kingdom is far wider than the Church’s boundaries.” Declarations like these, and material I found in the works of Jacques Dupuis and others, provided the key to understanding my role in mission.
Relating to people whom I call “backpacker Catholics”, and the multitude who have no formal religion has taught me to appreciate that we are free to choose our way to God. This search for Him is a grace that God gives freely to all.
What one writer refers to as the “modern day flight from religion” does not leave me dismayed. Exposure to mission in non-Christian countries has led me to a deeper understanding of God’s unrelenting involvement in the lives of all men and women.
The rejection of the institutional Church in so many places around the world allows me to see that there are many different ways to God. It gives a new meaning to the missionary strategy of Christ the Shepherd, going in search of his sheep who have wandered off on their own. It leaves me with a sense of compassion for all, whatever their religious preferences. Everyone is on a journey searching for meaning.
Life and work in Asia challenged me to deal with evangelization in a world experiencing globalization. Ministry in such diverse circumstances has not led me to count numbers but rather to touch into the longing for God that is to be found in all peoples, of every religion or no religion.
I began to see that my ministry was not so much to fill churches but rather to help build the Kingdom, to walk with others in their search for God, no matter what might be the destination they had chosen for themselves. I am most grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way over the course of 46 years as a Redemptorist priest.