When Spiritans get to know a group of people and gradually introduce them to the Gospel message, we call it "first evangelization." It brings the Good News about Jesus Christ to people who have never heard it before. It is nourishing their new faith and supporting its integration into their traditional ways.
Augustine Shao, C.S.Sp., bishop of Zanzibar, talks about the challenge of first evangelization, of bringing Christ to the people, on the African continent, where there are 53 countries embodying thousands of cultural groups.
He says, "We missionaries talk of faith and hope, but the ordinary people have more faith and hope than we do. Sometimes we took it for granted that these ordinary people had no kind of belief, no kind of religion. Africans were seen as an empty tin: you had to pour in water to fill it. That was not true. Africans knew God before any missionaries came."
As Spiritans, we respect the traditions of the people we serve.
- We live with the people and let the Spirit manifest itself through our presence in their lives.
- We eagerly acknowledge that God is with the people and we are there to share a Christian understanding of Him.
- We tell Gospel stories that can be interpreted in communities that are so close to the land.
But this process of first evangelization is a lengthy process and conversion does not happen overnight.
"The missionary must be patient enough to sit down and learn why the people do what they do. Don't judge things the moment you arrive on the scene. The missionary must be willing to be a student every now and then. When the people know that you appreciate them, that you are willing to take the time to understand what they are doing, then they will say, 'There's a missionary who knows our culture. People are fed up with words. Our laws have to connect with the lived experience of the people. It is not enough to say, 'That is a sin, don't do that.' Educate them to see how it is a sin. Give them the reason why."- Bishop Shao.
In the Philippines, Fr. Dan Sormani, C.S.Sp., is involved in the local Muslim-Christian Movement for Peace and Reconciliation. People from his active, four-year-old Chinese-Filipino Catholic parish, Resurrection of the Lord, expect him to drop in for breakfast after Mass, and they help him with his grocery shopping.
My circle of Muslim friends and acquaintances is quickly growing and my understanding of their plight as a marginalized minority deepens. I'm always struck by how wonderfully we Spiritans have been welcomed into the lives and homes of so many different people." "I never fail to run into many people who enthusiastically greet me by name," he describes, "and some of the old veiled Muslim women in the market get a kick out of my greeting them in Arabic with a quote from the Koran." -- Fr. Dan Sormani.