IT SEEMS that Apostolic times have come to the third world: Mexican missionaries are working in Indonesia and Nigeria; Chilean missionaries are in Chad; Brazilians in Angola and Mozambique; Indian missionaries are in Korea, Sudan and Brazil; Filipino missionaries are in New Guinea and Cameroon: Sri Lankans in Pakistan; Japanese in Nepal and the Near East.
Even African churches are beginning to send missionaries to other continents. Missionaries from Zaire work in Brazil and Haiti and now Nigeria has begun to send out priests to other countries.
On June 28, 1986, eleven members of the Missionary Society of St Paul were ordained priests by Bishop Gabriel Ganaka, Bishop of Jos and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria. At the end of the ceremony Cardinal Dominic Ekendem gave the newly ordained their mission assignments: three will go to the diocese of Buea, Cameroon; three to the archdiocese of Monrovia, Liberia; three to the diocese of Galveston-Houston, United States, and two will remain in Nigeria to help in the formation of future missionaries.
The ceremony attracted visitors from all over Nigeria, and priests, religious and laity travelled long distances to be present for the occasion. In his homily Bishop Ganaka outlined the history and purpose of the Missionary Society and Seminary of St Paul since the idea was first proposed to the Bishops' Conference by Cardinal Ekendem in 1976. Part of the homily follows: "We give thanks and praise to Almighty God through his beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord, for allowing us to see this day when eleven deacons from the National Missionary Seminary of St Paul, Gwagwalada, will be raised to the dignity of the priesthood, bringing the total number of our national missionary priests to thirteen.
"This is a matter for great joy to the Catholic Church in Nigeria and we can truly say with the psalmist: 'This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. It is the Lord's doing and it is wonderful in our eyes' (Ps. 118:24).
"When the seminary was formally opened in 1977, there was only a handful of students, but today, there are about 130 students in both campuses of the seminary at !peril and at Gwagwalada. We pray that the Lord of the harvest will continue to send more labourers into his harvest.
-These young men who are being ordained here today are not for assignments in the Church in Nigeria. They are being ordained in Nigeria to give a missionary outreach to the work of the Church in Nigeria.
"It is a known fact that there is a shortage of priests in Nigeria. If so, why train and ordain young men only to send them out? Several reasons can be advanced for this.
"In the first place, the Church, by its nature, is missionary (Ad Gentes). In other words, the Church is sent to preach the Good News. 'As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you', the Lord told his apostles, and since then, generations of missionaries have gone to different parts of the world, including Nigeria, to preach the good news of salvation. "Secondly, the Popes, down through the years, have urged Churches to be missionary and to share their personnel and resources with other Churches that do not have, even if we do not have enough for ourselves.
" In sending out our missionary priests, we are responding to the consistent teaching of the Popes. His Holiness Pope John Paul 11 paid glowing tribute in his first Mass in Nigeria to the fact that Nigerian priests and sisters are serving outside Nigeria: 'I rejoice deeply that you have begun to send missionaries to other lands, even before you have labourers enough for your own vineyard . . . Another visible sign of your desire to hand on the faith is the establishment in 1977 of your National Missionary Seminary. May God prosper all these efforts'.
"Thirdly, Nigeria is one of the countries that benefited immensely from the service of missionaries from many countries for well over a hundred years, less in some parts. We have been on the receiving end for many years; it is good that we as a church should now send some out.
'This gesture, no doubt, enables us to practise the 'ninth beatitude' of Jesus Christ which Paul quoted: 'It is more blessed' to give than to receive' (Acts 20:35) . . ."
In 1960 5107o of Catholics lived in the Western world; only one third will be living there at the end of the century. Half the Catholics in the world will then live in Latin America, and Africa will have more Christians than Western Europe and North America put together!
In Africa the number of Catholics has trebled during the last twenty years. Christian Churches there are growing by seven million faithful a year. Zaire and Nigeria show the way forward in sending out some of their priests to other countries.
One cannot deny that, in spite of the recent increase in vocations, the lack of priests will remain a critical problem in the Third World. At the moment there are only two priests for every 100,000 people in Asia and four in Africa, whereas there are thirteen for the same number of faithful in Latin America, twenty-six in Oceania, twentynine in North America and thirty-one in Europe.
But the general missionary awakening in the Third World opens up a new era for the Church throughout the world and should be a source of great hope and encouragement for us.