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SIDIC Periodical XVI - 1983/2
Witness (Pages 26 - 27)

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Education - Mission - Witness - Dialogue; an arithmetical progression in our teaching
Mary Travers



Please, Sister, can my black baby be baptized Esmeralda Etheldreda Ermyntrude!

The scene is (or was!) the annual Lenten collection for the black babies; a contribution carried the privilege of naming a baby who would be baptized in some far-off mission station by a missionary priest who, Sister devoutly hoped, would be discriminating in the use he made of the names hopefully proposed by her pupils. The process was backed up by stirring stories of missionary activities among the benighted heathen, and missionary martyr¬doms, the bloodier the better for the enthralment of Junior boys. Small wonder that mission and missionary have become words to be reacted against by the present generation, even though the Church was given a mission to proclaim the good news to every creature. As with so many words which have acquired undesirable accretions over the centuries, mission is an authentic Christian concept which perhaps has to undergo the very Christian process of dying in order to rise to new life for a future generation. In terms of our teaching, this many mean a sin of omission for a number of years, or at most a very sparing use of the word, although its meaning will still be there as part of the progression of our title. No unqualified enthusiasm for the exploits of a Francis Xavier, rather a very careful historical situating of the man in the religious and secular context of his own day, not ours. The mentality of the sixteenth century is not our mentality in many areas, and we do less than justice to a great man of God if we judge his achievements by a twentieth century scale of values.


The next stage in the progression was recognised by many only in the years following Vatican II. Here we are not alone. If it is true to say What your are shouts so loudly that nobody hears what you say, then anyone and everyone is a witness to their own particular beliefs, religious, political or whatever! When this kind of witness is qualified as Christian, then it can work in two ways. If the glad tidings of great joy are proclaimed by one of those sour faced saints Teresa of Avila asked to be delivered from, then many young people will shrug their shoulders and pass by on the other side. On the other hand, if the dangerous theology of replacement referred to by David Burrell is taught by someone whose whole life is redolent of love and good will, then it is likely to be transmitted to others less likely to contradict it by their way of life.

Most of us would probably see ourselves at some point between these two extremes, and as teachers we have to work towards a situation where what we are and what we say give harmonious witness both to our own faith and our acceptance of other faiths, especially Judaism.

The themes running through our understanding of what it is to witness to the one God are of importance in our teaching. The theme of fidelity can be explored in all its human connotations through history and lit¬erature and inevitably brings us to the other great theme of covenant expressed in the imagery of marriage. Much helpful material for the development of this in both Jewish and Christian terms will be found in SIDIC vol. XIV no. 1 (1981). These themes are particularly suitable for adolescents, and witness to the one God is a shared witness by Jew, Christian and Moslem, which brings us to the final stage in our progression.


David Burrell speaks about the dark side of wit¬nessing to one God which is our propensity to elevate our own status by denigrating the other person's. Security in one's own faith is an essential ingredient in acceptance of the faith of another as both right for them and their right. For Christian, Jew and Moslem an important part in education for witness is help towards growth and development in personal faith. This will allow for dialogue i.e. the ability to see and hear through the sensibilities of the other. Dialogue, as the very word implies, takes two! It is not a situation involving two persons, of whom one does all the talking while the other is expected to listen, or at best plunges in when the speaker pauses for breath. The dialogue situation, with each one trying to listen and understand what the other is saying, is not something which just happens.
From childhood there has to be gentle encouragement and opportunity for practice; the fact that a young boy or girl listens to an adult does not necessarily imply dialogue unless the adult also is willing to listen and try to understand; children may listen to adults (or appear to listen) for many reasons, most of them a far cry from dialogue. For children to listen to each other there has to be guidance and positive help over a number of years, so that the adolescent and young adult come to dialogue situations in role-playing with a firm foun¬dation upon which to build. Tell me about yourself must be backed by a sincere desire to discover what makes the other tick. Other ideas include the celebration in multi-faith schools of all major religious festivals, prepared when possible by the faith-group concerned; in the wider social context, participation in the worship of other groups rather than in ecumenical services which give no real idea of the faith experience of any one of the groups involved.

So the progression goes on! Mission, witness and dialogue all contained in some way one in the other and yet at the same time each moving forward towards the ultimate goal — That they may be one...


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