This testimony of Fr. Fernando Domingues on his experience in Kenya highlights some characteristic elements of the ministry of the presbyter serving in the context of evangelization ad gentes.

The Word at the center. The Council decree on our life and ministry as priests (Presbyterorum ordinis 4) presents the preaching of the Word as the ‘first duty’ of priests as collaborators of bishops in fulfilling their mandate to “proclaim the Gospel of God to all” (cf. 2Cor 11:7). Personally, I have often and, I believe, progressively lived this task as a real privilege: having theoretical instruments to deepen the Gospel as a written Word that leads to a vital encounter with the One who is the Incarnate Word, and then having the possibility of transmitting this Word to many others. I was experienced this journey of in depth study and encounter with the Word not only in moments of study and meditation, but especially in moments of preaching, since this too can become a true experience of what is ordinarily called “living in Christ” (cf. Gal 2:20). Listening to the Word together with other missionaries was often an enriching effort. The weekly morning of shared reflection on the readings of the following Sunday made us discover new dimensions in the Word and in our ministry. This ministerial complementarity in listening was not always easy, but often led us to discover in the Word a freshness that meditation from the point of view of the “professional preacher” risks not to grasp.

Yet another significant moment of community listening was the participation, in a role that was not of the presidency, in the weekly meetings of the small Christian communities where we meditated together and prayed the Gospel reading the following Sunday. This often proved to be surprisingly rich, because being done in the local African language, it gave our people a real chance to bring the Gospel into “direct contact” with their daily life in the slum where we lived. Not infrequently I was faced with truly new interpretations for me, for the simple fact that it was not a matter of meditating on the gospel to teach the poor, but of the poor reflecting on the gospel from their point of view, from the concrete challenges they had to face. Moreover, they meditated and re-expressed the Gospel from within their religious experience, always deeply marked by the beliefs typical of traditional African religion. Listening to the Word as a community, both among ourselves and with the local people, seemed to me necessary to avoid falling into “private interpretations” (cf. 2 Pet 1:20), often partial, in response to situations, cultures and religious traditions, which a person alone, moreover a foreigner, is never able to know with sufficient depth. Experience confirmed what we believe by faith, namely that all the baptized receive from the Spirit the light that enables them to understand the Gospel of Christ and to see how to live it in their concrete reality. This is even more true when listening is done in a community context of prayerful reflection and study with a view to a more authentic following. The Word heard then becomes Word preached, both in the liturgical context of the homily and in the various catechetical activities, in the visit to families, in the encounter with the sick and those who care for them, but also when “preaching without words”, that is, in the concrete exercise of the various activities of charity and solidarity, as in the various projects of human promotion. In any case, the Word heard in the concrete context of the people and together with them, easily becomes dialogue with their lives in which the Risen Lord responds in the present to their concrete need for salvation.

Animator of ministries. Closely linked to the ministry of the Word mentioned above is the presbyter’s service of coordination and animation of ministries in the Christian community. The community born from listening to the Word feels from the beginning the imperative to live it in all dimensions of existence by giving a credible witness to others (cf. AG 6). From this reality, the Spirit arouses a plurality of ministries. Some of these are already established by the Church’s centuries-old tradition (catechists, assistance to the poor, the sick, ministries connected with the celebration of the Eucharist, etc.), others arise as a response to local needs such as the ministry of reconciliation in areas of latent or active conflict, specific services in areas affected by the AIDS pandemic (prevention services, physical and spiritual assistance to the sick, their families, care for orphans, etc.).

It should be noted, by the way, that the various ecclesial ministries that serve the seriously ill are inseparable from their spiritual assistance in a context where illness is always lived as an expression and consequence of a moral and spiritual evil, one’s own or others’. The presbyter has to set in motion and coordinate, in the local community, the process of discernment of the ministries necessary for the life and service of the community. Some of these ministries serve the functioning of the community, while others express the service and witness of the community ad extra. Of course, it often takes a good dose of imagination to create paths of basic and ongoing formation for new ministers, especially when it comes to creating new ministerial expressions; some areas that have required a special effort of discernment and formation of new ministers are: unmarried mothers, youth gangs, orphans, garbage collectors. Much of the time and energy of the presbyter is spent in the work of animation and coordination of these ministries, so that all members serve in harmony and complementarity that serves the growth of the one ecclesial body (1Cor 12, 12f.). A Church that is born and grows in listening to the Word as a community, easily develops ministerial dynamics at every level of her life so that each member becomes a minister. I remember that, on a feast of Pentecost, during the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation, I invited, in accordance with local custom, everyone who had just been confirmed to declare before the community the concrete service she assumed among the many possibilities that already existed; even a seriously ill young woman barely leaned on two rough crutches came forward to commit herself to a ministry: “I will suffer for you all and especially for our priests”. She had understood the meaning of an entirely ministerial Church. I found it particularly gratifying to see people whose hidden talents were discovered and developed precisely in the context of these ministries, often leading the person to find a new sense of his or her human and Christian dignity.

Presiding over the Eucharist. It is in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration, presided over by the presbyter, that the community celebrates its life as the body of the Risen Lord and thus a sign and instrument of the concrete action of His Spirit in the concrete context in which it lives.

Again, it is up to the presbyter to ensure that in the celebration of the Eucharist, the concrete life of the Body of Christ as he lives ‘here and now’ is celebrated and made visible in all its richness. Since it was necessary to manage the time in such a way that the celebration did not last longer than the hour and a half allotted, an attempt was made to distribute the manifestation of the most important aspects of ecclesial life lived locally during the celebrations of the liturgical year. The celebration of the sacramental Body of Christ in the signs of bread and wine is inseparable from the concrete life of the local community, the Body of Christ in history. Hence the constant need to activate and coordinate the necessary and inevitable process of inculturation in the liturgy. The two coordinates to keep always in mind were the real communion of faith and of ritual with the ‘universal body’ of Christ and, at the same time, fidelity to the concrete life of this same ‘body’ in its local expression. But the presbyteral service of presidency cannot be reduced to the organisational strategies of the celebration; at the heart of this service lies the fact that the presbyter presides in persona Christi; in his concrete person, consecrated by the sacrament of Order, it is Christ who manifests himself and acts as the head who offers his life on the cross for the life of his whole ecclesial body (cf. Col 1:18 ff; Eph 5:23 ff).

For personal and community reflection:

– What strikes me about this presbyter’s experience? Why?

– What does this experience evoke in me? For what reason?

– What does it say to us as a community?


According to Karl Rahner (O’Meara 1999, 160), the grace received at baptism confers the right, the task and the inner strength to help the Church to fulfil herself. In today’s society more and more faithful are awakening to the call to live their faith concretely through service, to connect faith to life, and to serve the Church and the world in some specific service, whether full-time or part-time. The different ministries that emerge in the Church today can have various levels of intensity:

= Some ministries are exercised in a rather limited and temporary way (for example, readers, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, as well as occasional volunteers who care for the sick, the poor, or children).

= Then there are ministries that are exercised regularly, part-time (once a week) and those that take place full-time.

There are also different roles in the ministry, which must be coordinated:

= at the center of all the ministries of the Christian community are the ordained ministers who have the task of leading the community and empowering the faithful to exercise their specific ministries; to preside over liturgical celebrations and coordinate the activities of the community.

= Together with the ordained ministers, in the Christian community there will be a central ministerial team, full-time ministers by vocation – religious and laity – who live out of their work and who have been prepared through study and practice, acquiring professional competence. However, their ministry should not be seen as a job or a prestigious position, but as a long-term commitment to a public ministry. This is the case with services considered essential or very important in the life of the Christian community and which require a sense of vocation and a systematic, scientific and spiritual preparation. This generally leads to a radical vocational choice, characterized by a long-term, full-time commitment. Such ministries have a permanent character and require qualities of leadership, an appropriate lifestyle and a accountability to the Church.

= Each ministry should include some form of public preparation and mandate. Some ministries have less intensity or duration; nevertheless, they make an important contribution and every member of the Church will, at some point, find himself involved in some of these services.

= The presbyter and bishop are responsible for developing the vision and practice of ministries and animate the faithful to deepen their ministerial identity. This means improving the ministerial service of the baptized, inviting them into service, facilitating their ministerial formation and coordinating ministries, directing the whole of the ministries of the Christian community.

It is important to note that ministries that require less preparation and time are no less, or to a lesser extent, ministries, since they are still a service and an instrument of God’s grace. The essence of ministry is not determined by quantitative or qualitative differences in service, but by the fact that it is a participation in the very ministry of Christ. As John Paul II stressed in the post-synodal exhortation Christifideles laici (CL 21), “The ministries which exist and are at work at this time in the Church are all, even in their variety of forms, a participation in Jesus Christ’s own ministry as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (cf. Jn 10:11), the humble servant who gives himself without reserve for the salvation of all (cf. Mk 10:45)”.

In any case, what is needed above all is great human maturity because humanity is the visibility of the invisible. In the past, the divinity of Jesus has often been emphasized to the point of diminishing his humanity. Instead, it is important to recover a Christology that looks to the fullness of humanity. Then it takes a great human experience and preparation in leading the community. Traditionally the competence of the priests was entrusted above all to scholastic dogmatic theology, with a little philosophy as an “ancilla”; a little pastoral theology, but it was above all on how to administer – note the word administer – the sacraments. Today it is necessary to systematically develop skills and experience on how to accompany transformed and transforming communities.

As a continuation of Jesus’ mission, ministries are characterized by total dedication, self-denial and service to the poorest and most abandoned. From a Christian perspective, ministry brings the enrichment of Christ’s presence, attitudes and mission in society, mediated by the minister’s communion with Christ, as it is especially evident in self-giving so that others may have life and life to the full. From this point of view – no matter how much preparation and formation a minister may have – the ministry remains a modest, enabling task, aware that his or her strength and effectiveness go beyond their personal capacities, preparation and endowments, even though all these are very important.

Further Readings:

Domingues, F. (2006). “Presbitero e missione”, in Ministeri per la missione, Redemptoris missio: rivista di pastorale e formazione missionaria, Nuova serie, anno XXII, N. 2 luglio – dicembre, pp. 20-29.

John Paul II. (1987). Christifideles laici (The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People).

McBrien, R.P. (1987). Ministry. A Theological, Pastoral Book. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.

McBrien, R.P. (1989). Catholicism. Reprint. London: Geoffrey Chapman 1981, 657-659; 667-675; 842-848.

O’Meara, T.F. (1999). Theology of Ministry. Revised ed. New York: Paulist Press, 139-167; 182-198.


Mk 10:35-45

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Tips for personal prayer:

After the third announcement of Jesus’ suffering and death, it’s James and John who show how far they are from Jesus’ way of thinking. The two brothers have followed Jesus since the beginning of his public ministry, they are his first companions together with Peter and Andrew, they have abandoned everything, family and profession, to be with him, and somehow they feel they are the “elders” of the community. Here they are, now, presenting themselves to Jesus to tell him what they think they “deserve” for the future, when Jesus, the Messiah King, will establish his kingdom: “Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left in your glory”. It is a claim more than a question, made by those who think exactly as we do so often in our daily lives: relationships count, so it is necessary to claim their weight. As a matter of fact, this demand of the two brothers immediately arouses an outraged reaction in the other disciples, who complain out of jealousy and because they are bothered by their claim. Then Jesus calls all twelve of them around him and gives them a very instructive lesson, because it is an apocalypse of worldly, political power. He says: “You know”, because it is enough to look, to observe, “that those who are considered the rulers of the people dominate, and their leaders oppress them. But this is not so among you (Non ita est autem in vobis). Beware, Jesus does not say: “Among you it ought not be so”, making a wish or giving a command, but: “Among you it is not so”, that is, “if it is so, you are not my community! (E. Bianchi)

= Jesus made himself a servant and gave his life as ransom for the multitudes, that is, for everyone. Jesus did not dominate, but he always served until he became a slave, until he washed others’ feet, until he accepted an ignominious death, assimilated to the evildoers. What personal experience have you had of this style of leadership? How have you lived it?

= What aspects of your culture are criticized by this Gospel? And how do you experience that?

= What conversion does the Gospel call you to as an animator in the ministries in which you are involved?


1. In an atmosphere of prayer and mutual listening, let us share in community the fruits of personal prayer.

2. Let us reflect together:

= What emerges from our sharing?

= What invitations is the Spirit making to us as a community?

= How can we respond, concretely and realistically, to these invitations?

= Our commitment, concrete and realistic, is …..

“The way of service is the most effective antidote against the disease of the search for the first places; it is medicine for climbers, this search for the first places, which affects so many human contexts and does not spare even Christians, the people of God, not even the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Therefore, as disciples of Christ, we welcome this Gospel as a call to conversion, to bear witness with courage and generosity to a Church that bows down to the feet of the least, to serve them with love and simplicity”. Pope Francis, Angelus 21/10/2018.


Penitential Act: each person, starting from a Word, invokes God’s mercy to heal the inability to serve.

Sign: an apron, bowl of water and sandals, memory of the washing of the feet.

Offertory: the community presents at the altar the concrete and realistic commitment that they have decided to make.

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