Reviewed by WILLIAM BURRIDGE, W.F.
Advice from the Field, by Joseph A. McCoy, S.M. (Helicon, 30s.),
HE study of missionary methods assumes a new urgency today when the last geographical areas of the Church's mission to the world have been opened up, the new independent states in 'mission' lands are evolving their pattern of life and everywhere the Church's pastoral confrontation with contemporary ideologies and behaviour is earnestly under review.
Advice from the Field is the product of a preoccupation of this kind. It is not a manual nor even a guide: it is a survey. When you flip through the pages, they have the appearance of a City Health Committee's report as much as anything, It is in fact a compilation of the answers with the author's comment, to a series of questionnaires sent out to 295 American missionaries. That makes it
clear, as the author himself insists, that the survey is not exhaustive, although the chapter headings suggest a widely flung net.
The missionaries were asked whether they felt they had been given adequate training for the mission field, what lacunae they noticed, how they approached the study of languages, customs and culture, how they coped with health problems, how they fostered their intellectual life, what they made of a specifically missionary spirituality, how they set about their catechetical work.
The answers are sometimes surprising the discovery, for instance, of how little the Papal encyclicals on missionary matters are read; sometimes even a bit alarming too many missionaries are left to grope their way and because of this, for all their zeal, time and opportunities are lost and efficiency suffers. (One is haunted by the vision of private pastoral "groundnut schemes"!).
Broadly speaking, most of the problems touched on in this book arise from a lack of specialisation. Large numbers of priests and religions staffing dioceses in mission lands belong to orders apc1 congregations whose object is not specifically missionary and they cannot be expected to gear the training of their subjects to missionary work. Even amongst specifically missionary institutes most have missions in widely differing parts of the globe, In either case, basically the solution is in a period of initiation on arrival in the mission field, not just sitting up listening to an older missionary's stories of the people and the country the author modestly hopes even this is not too idealistic!) but a year or so of properly organised language and customs study under the tuition of selected missionaries and with the goad of successive examinations spread out beyond this introductory pastoral course.
That at any rate is what the present reviewer's missionary body finds essential, even after the African slant given to the normal years of ecclesiastical training and novitiate, and the study of pastoral and spiritual manuals written against the background of its specialised field of work. However, even though Fr. McCoy does not work out the solutions, his hook will serve to make people conscious of these missionary problems and their importance. That in itself is a great service to the missionary cause.
The topic is inevitably much bigger than the book. That the author is conversant with the size of it is clear from his extensive and varied bibliography, ranging from Lord Hailey's monumental An African Survey to Sister Marie Jeanne's How to foster missionary vocations in the Primary School and including worthwhile books on linguistic and ethnological studies.
But the solutions must be worked out. Missionary manpower is lamentably thin on the ground arid it would be a tragedy if its devotedness failed to achieve its maximum productivity for want of professional formation and master plans.