Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The urgent need and importance which “the Church’s missionary activity” has in our time is what led Benedict XVI to write a passionate Message for the 2007 World Message Day scheduled for Sunday, October 21.
In a world marked by secularism and poverty in which Churches are affected by fewer vocations and diminishing hope, the Pope said that the mission, the “universal mission,” is a must from which the Church cannot escape.
The starting point for his incisive message titled “All the Churches for all the world,” dated May 27, Solemnity of Pentecost, is the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical Fidei donum by the Servant of God Pius XII, which “promoted and encouraged cooperation between Churches for the mission ‘ad gentes,’” and called on the “more established Churches to send priests in support of the younger Churches.”
Moved by the Encyclical many priests (called for this reason fidei donum) left for Africa and other regions of the world like Latin America and some countries in Asia. “Scores of priests who after leaving home dedicated their apostolic energies to serving newly-created communities in poor and developing areas,” among them “quite a few martyrs who, in order to bear witness to the word and out of apostolic dedication, sacrificed their lives.”
Benedict XVI thanked the Lord “for the bountiful riches gained from missionary co-operation” but called on Him that “their example may elicit everywhere vocations as well as renew the missionary awareness” in the entire Christian people.
Whether established or new, all Churches are called to participate in universal evangelisation (for the entire world).
Although they face new challenges from within, the Pope urged the “established Churches to continue their work, which in the past has meant supplying missions not only with material resources but also with a good number of priests, religious and lay people, thus engendering effective cooperation between Christian communities.”
“Faced with a increasingly secularised culture which seems at times to permeate Western societies more and more, and in light of the crisis of the family, the drop in vocations and the progressive aging of the clergy, these Churches run the risk of closing in on themselves, of looking to the future with reduced hope, lessening their missionary efforts. Yet this is precisely the moment to open trustingly to God’s Providence, He who never abandons His people and who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, guides them towards the accomplishment of His eternal plan of salvation.”
The younger Churches are also called to dedicate themselves to evangelisation. “Although beset by many difficulties and [facing many] obstacles on their path towards development, they still manage to grow. Some even have an abundance of priests and consecrated people, many of whom are sent to perform their pastoral ministry and apostolic service elsewhere, including in lands of established evangelisation, and this despite their own pressing needs.”
The Pontiff added that every faithful must respond to the mission’s appeal and not just see as a task for specialists. In fact, “all Christian communities are born missionary. And it is against the courage to evangelise that believers’ love for the Lord can be measured. We can thus say that for the individual faithful it is not just a matter of collaborating in evangelising activity, but it also of seeing oneself as a protagonist and jointly responsible in the Church’s mission."
In his appeal, the Holy Father singled out “particularly children and young people, always ready to make a generous missionary commitment,” the sick and the suffering “recognising the value of their mysterious and indispensable collaboration in the work of salvation,” and consecrated people and cloistered monasteries that they may intensify their prayers for the missions, conscious that “the first and main contribution we are called to make to the Church's missionary activity is prayer”.
Jesus Christ and the mission ad gentes
Besides thinking about the mission in terms of broadening its scope, the Pontiff’s message also focused on its purpose, which is a sign of some the issues that have concerned him and that he has already addressed in other speeches and writings.
First of all, he explained that the missionary impulse does not stem from any fanciful idea about being generous or any social considerations or even less from any ideological analysis, but rather comes from a deeper relationship between the believer and Jesus Christ.
“Christ is the inexhaustible source of the Church’s mission,” he said. Therefore, “He supports us in the demanding task of evangelisation and accompanies us in the certainty that He, master of the harvest, is with us, unceasingly guiding His people.”
Secondly, Benedict XVI noted that “co-operation between Churches,” i.e. the exchange of material and human resources between communities, does not end the specific mission which is to proclaim the faith to non-Christians.
“Fifty years since the historic appeal my predecessor Pius XII made in the Encyclical Fidei donum, I shall like to reiterate that proclaiming the Gospel continues to be current and urgent. In his Encyclical Redemptoris missio, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the “Church's mission is wider than the ‘communion among the churches;’ [that] it ought to be directed not only to aiding re-evangelisation but also and primarily to missionary activity as such. (n. 65)”
Thirdly, the Pope stressed that the mission cannot be reduced to some kind of humanitarian voluntary service or social work. Often the fight against hunger and injustice overshadows the task of proclaiming Christ and the specifically Christian quality of the missionary service, sometimes done in the name of a given religious relativism based on the view that “after all, all religions are the same.”
By contrast, for the Pontiff proclaiming Christ must be done to all men of religion to fulfill their quest and to every man so that his culture and life may be purified and improved.
“Missionary commitment,” Benedict XVI said, “remains [. . .] the Church's primary service to humanity today to guide and evangelise cultural, social and ethical transformations, and offer Christ's salvation to modern mankind, humiliated and oppressed in so many parts of the world by endemic poverty, violence, and the systematic negation of human rights."
The Holy Father concluded his message by calling upon the Virgin, “who promptly accompanied the nascent Church, to guide our footsteps and gain for us a Pentecost of love. In particular, may She make us aware that we are all missionaries, called by the Lord to be His witnesses in every moment of our lives.”