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Redemptoris Missio in the Development of Missiological Thought

Robert Schreiter, C.PP.S.

Introduction

It is not given to us to be able to peer deeply into the future. As a result, we have only a dim perception of the what the consequences of events and documents will be. We may set our sights on the future with a particular agenda, but things actually unfold in a complex interaction between various factors, some of which are familiar, while others are surprising and beyond our control. Likewise, even as we attempt to influence the future in a particular way, we discover that the events and documents initiating that future carry within them elements about which we have only partial awareness. Those initiating events and documents then are able to open new insights and opportunities not imagined when we first set out.

However that future may further unfold, we can already say now, after ten years, that Redemptoris Missio was certainly the most important encyclical letter on mission in the twentieth century. In a century in which more important documents emerged from the Magisterium on mission than in any other, Redemptoris Missio clearly stands out and takes pride of place alongside the encyclical letters on mission promulgated by the current Holy Father’s illustrious predecessors.

Ten years may be too short a time to judge the long-term significance of an encyclical like Redemptoris Missio. Yet certain things have emerged which indicate the impact it has already had, and the further significance it may still yet enjoy. I deem it an honor and a privilege to be able to address its impact on missiological thought and some future trajectories it portends as we enter the third millennium.

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