A missionary among the people
Sr. Lakshmi with her student class outside the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Sr. Lakshmi Fernando from the Province of Sri Lanka/Pakistan arrived in Rome in January 2020 to study the semester-long Renewal Program for Missionaries at the Pontifical Gregorian University. During that time, she lived at the Provincialate House of the Province of Italy/Malta.
How has this program changed your vision of mission?
Previously, I had a more narrow view of this. Of course, we studied about mission during our initial formation, but this was very much limited to the mission and charism of our Congregation. I certainly did not have a broader perspective of what mission means. Once, we thought of mission as ad gentes, but today we describe mission as missio inter gentes: we are called to go among the people. I now see mission in light of what Pope Francis said: “I am a mission; you are a mission.” So, mission and missionary are both the same. This new understanding caused me to focus on my personal life as a missionary and ask myself: how do I carry out this mission? How do I live my mission?
How does this affect your understanding of the specific mission of the Congregation?
Our founder and foundress began the charitable acts which our Congregation carries out. We don’t go preaching everywhere, but we do carry out charitable work where we bring the Good News. Previously, I had understood this mission to be limited to women and children, but I now understand how mission has a history of evolution and needs to be updated according to the needs of the times. We can’t just continue the work that we have been doing for centuries. Our Congregation has responded to this in our six beautiful Position Papers, which have their source in the spirituality, vision, mission, and heritage of the Congregation.
How do you live your mission within the dual movement of ministering in a multicultural and multi-religious country while remaining faithful to the call of Jesus to “baptize them”?
During the course, I learned about the close connection between historical colonization and evangelization. In Sri Lanka, we were colonized for more than 500 years, and baptism was often by force! I fell in love with Pope Paul VI when I learned about his call to be open to the “truth and holiness” of other religions. I learned about his open mind and his concept of interreligious and interfaith dialogue. Today, in Sri Lanka, there are four major religions, and we are witnessing a rise in religious fundamentalism. The question, for me, is how we, as missionaries, face this. How can we use Church resources to proclaim through dialogue? Of course, we don’t need to convert all non-Christians, but we do need to organize our ministries such that people experience the message of Christ. For example, if I am to work in a crisis center, there will be Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. I will not directly preach Christ, but I will relay Christ to them. I will ask myself: “Do they experience Christ’s love”? Can they say: “yes, we truly experience Christ in that place.” I feel this is our evangelization; this is how people will understand the Good Shepher who we are called to share.