Pope Francis plans an Extraordinary Missionary Month for October 2019 to awaken the commitment of the missio ad gentes and transform ordinary pastoral outreach along missionary lines. The goal is to move away from tiredness, formalism and self-preservation. From Benedict XV's missio ad gentes to Vatican II, from Pope John Paul II to Evangelical Gaudium, this is the Church’s “essential task”,
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis wrote a letter to Card Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, released today by the Vatican Press office. In it, the pontiff promulgates an “Extraordinary Missionary Month to be celebrated in October 2019, with the aim of fostering an increased awareness of the missio ad gentes and taking up again with renewed fervour the missionary transformation of the Church’s life and pastoral activity”. It is important to consider that the “new evangelisation” of the peoples of old Christian tradition is happening within the “commitment to the Church’s universal mission”, which is to suitably channel “the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation”.
The year 2019 was chosen to mark the 100th anniversary of Benedict XV’s Apostolic Letter Maximus illud (November 30, 1919) on the activities carried out by missionaries around the world. That year, in the wake of the tragic global conflict that the pope had called a “useless slaughter,” Benedict XV recognised the need for a more evangelical approach to missionary work in the world, so that it would be purified of any colonial overtones and kept far away from the nationalistic and expansionistic aims that had proved so disastrous. “The Church of God is universal; she is not alien to any people,” he wrote, firmly calling for the rejection of any form of particular interest, inasmuch as the proclamation and the love of the Lord Jesus, spread by holiness of one’s life and good works, are the sole purpose of missionary activity.”
In his letter, Francis notes that the work of the Second Vatican Council (especially Ad Gentes) reiterates that the missio ad gentes is “an essential task” and that the Church is “missionary by nature”.
Although a century has gone by, “there still remains an enormous missionary task for her to accomplish.” Citing John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio, Francis writes that the “mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion;” indeed, “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.”
Once again the missio ad gentes remains current and necessary. Not only the age of missionaries is not over yet, but the universal missionary momentum is urgently needed to awaken the ordinary and pastoral mission, where we can sometimes see tiredness and formalism.
Citing again John Paul II, Francis ntoes “that 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! It is in commitment to the Church’s universal mission that the new evangelization of Christian peoples will find inspiration and support.”
This is one of the main points of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, in which Francis stresses that “missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity.” In fact, “Mere administration’ can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission.’” Let us not fear to undertake, with trust in God and great courage, “a missionary option capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.
“The Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud called for transcending national boundaries and bearing witness, with prophetic spirit and evangelical boldness, to God’s saving will through the Church’s universal mission. May the approaching centenary of that Letter serve as an incentive to combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past. Instead, may we be open to the joyful newness of the Gospel. In these, our troubled times, rent by the tragedies of war and menaced by the baneful tendency to accentuate differences and to incite conflict, may the Good News that in Jesus forgiveness triumphs over sin, life defeats death and love conquers fear, be proclaimed to the world with renewed fervour, and instil trust and hope in everyone.”
“In the light of this, accepting the proposal of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, I hereby call for an Extraordinary Missionary Month to be celebrated in October 2019, with the aim of fostering an increased awareness of the missio ad gentes and taking up again with renewed fervour the missionary transformation of the Church’s life and pastoral activity. The Missionary Month of October 2018 can serve as a good preparation for this celebration by enabling all the faithful to take to heart the proclamation of the Gospel and to help their communities grow in missionary and evangelizing zeal. May the love for the Church’s mission, which is “a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people,” grow ever stronger!”
The Missionary Dicastery and the Pontifical Missionary Societies will be tasked with “the work of preparing for this event, especially by raising awareness among the particular Churches, the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and among associations, movements, communities and other ecclesial bodies.
Finally, “May the Extraordinary Missionary Month prove an intense and fruitful occasion of grace, and promote initiatives and above all prayer, the soul of all missionary activity. May it likewise advance the preaching of the Gospel, biblical and theological reflection on the Church’s mission, works of Christian charity, and practical works of cooperation and solidarity between Churches, so that missionary zeal may revive and never be wanting among us.”