‘You shall be my witnesses… to the end of the earth.’ So says Jesus in the Acts 1:8. And in St. Mark he says: ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’ (16:15).

Reaching the end of the earth today is not so much a question of distance, as of resources. In the diocese of Ruteng, in Indonesia, 100 years after the first baptisms, 90% of the population are Catholic.

But the influence of Muslims and of the sects, and the advance of a consumer society, is making it necessary to expand and deepen the work of evangelisation. A seminar for 600 people – priests, religious, catechists and ordinary lay folk – is being organised to study the first apostolic letter of Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium) and will be an opportunity to take stock and explore new ways of evangelisation. The cost will be significant, and it will give a new impetus to the mission of Christian witness.

In Sanggau, in Indonesian Borneo, the Catholics are hoping for something similar from the renovation of their ‘Wisma Tabor’ retreat house and the construction of a dignified chapel.

Each year somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 catechists, women’s groups, parish leaders, pastoral ministry teams, young people, altar servers and others follow the courses and retreats held here. Thanks to this high usage, they are able to cover the running costs of the centre. But now the floor and roof are becoming rotten and unsafe. Mosquitoes and beetles are invading, and the rain is coming in. The retreat house can be renovated, but the chapel must be completely rebuilt.

Most of the Catholics – who make up half the population – are members of the Dayak tribe, the original inhabitants of Borneo. They live mainly by rice farming and latex collecting. They give what they can, but they are still short of funds.

In the diocese of Diphu, in India, the situation is different again. Here it is partly a matter of primary evangelisation (among the Garo tribe, for example), and partly of consolidating and deepening the faith (among the Karbi people).

But only very few priests and religious sisters know and understand the languages, songs, dances and customs of these different tribes well enough to be able to make the Good News known to them across the cultural barriers. But hearts are open.

The few missionaries who are here go from village to village, organising Bible study and prayer groups and providing catechetical instruction. What they need above all is help with travel costs, accommodation and catechetical materials.

Christ’s missionary command applies to everyone, ourselves included. But there is necessarily a division of labour – which is surely best expressed by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church and Patroness of the Missions: ‘Since I cannot be a missionary in deeds, I wanted to be so through love and penance.’ That is something we can all imitate her in.


This article can be found in Mirror 0715.