The arms of the Ascending Christ open to welcome but also to send

Fr. Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

Easter Ascension Year B

On May 1, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Parish of St. Joseph the Worker. The church’s modern architecture is very unusual compared to the other, more ancient churches of Macau. Above the altar, in the center of the huge mosaic in the form of a cross, there is the image of the Risen Christ ascending to Heaven, with open arms.

I usually ask visitors what the image of Christ with open arms means to them. Most people see it as a warm, welcoming gesture: Christ is inviting them at the banquet of the Eucharist, to a deeper communion with Him, to cast all our fears and worries on Him.

Some others, understand it as a missionary sending, as described in this Sunday’s Gospel of the Feast of the Ascension: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation!”, Jesus said before being taken up into heaven (Mk 16:15-20).  At the end of every Eucharist, nourished by the Bread of Life and filled with Spirit of the Risen Christ, the Christian community is sent into the world (that is, their families, their workplaces, their schools, etc.) to witness the Good News of Jesus Christ both in words and, above all, in action.

Both interpretations of Jesus’ open arms, welcoming and sending, have been equally relevant to the life of the Parish of St. Joseph the Worker. Thirty years ago, the northern part of Macau, especially the Iao Hon District adjacent to the Border Gate, was considered an unsafe area in which to live, even to stroll into especially at night. The nearby Areia Preta (Hac Sa Wan) back then had many textile factories, and many immigrants came to live in this area which became one of the most densely-populated in the world, with a generally poor standard of living and a high crime rate. Both from the social and cultural point of view, it was indeed a different environment from the other historical and more renowned districts of Macau.

Since there was no church in the area, in the early 90s, the first Catholics started gathering in a room of the Pastoral Center of the barrio, and slowly but steadily became a vibrant, lively Christian community. After the inauguration of the newly-built church in 1999, dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker because of the presence of so many workers in the district, the community continued to grow and attract more and more people, especially through the service of many lay people who offered time and energy for the evangelizing efforts of the newly-established parish. The celebration of the 25th anniversary is a tribute to them and a thanksgiving to God for the growth we have witnessed throughout all these years.

The presence of the Church in the Northern District of Macau also enlightens the mystery of the Ascension which is not about Jesus’ leaving but about the beginning of a different way of being present in the world through the humanity of the Church. As the Second Vatican Council underlined, “the Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament — a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men” (Lumen Gentium 1). “The Church is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity, because God desires that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 776). This is the fundamental meaning and vocation of our parish of St. Joseph the Worker and of every parish all over the world.

In the past 25 years, the social, economic, and cultural reality of the Northern District has greatly changed, and new needs and challenges have arisen. Mission has become more demanding in this complex time of history. This should not surprise us. Many years ago, Pope John Paul II emphasized that “the mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion […] An overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service.  Missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others! […] But what moves me even more to proclaim the urgency of missionary evangelization is the fact that it is the primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world, a world which has experienced marvelous achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate realities and of existence itself” (Redemptoris Missio 1, 2).

During this year’s feast of the Ascension, may each one of us hear Christ’s invitation, indeed a “commission”, to continue the mission He entrusted to the Apostles and, through them, to each one of us.